Aircalin explains GX connectivity decision for A330neo, talks pricing

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Even a tiny airline like Aircalin knows it needs inflight connectivity, is well aware of the coverage gaps in its key Pacific market, and accepts that wifi has to be fast – and free in business. The airline will offer Inmarsat Global Xpress on its new Airbus A330-900neo twinjets, alongside Inmarsat’s L-band-supported cockpit communications.

Within the cabin, “the system chosen by Aircalin for high-speed satellite Internet access is Inmarsat’s Ka-band technology, which offers the best coverage in the Pacific area,” the airline explained (in French; translation by the author). “The connectivity will be provided by SITAONAIR, one of the leaders in the sector.” SITAONAIR will serve as ISP, as first reported in September.

This will be the first time Aircalin, the international airline of French territory New Caledonia, has offered inflight connectivity to passengers. Its Airbus A320ceo narrowbody aircraft presently offer streaming inflight entertainment within the cabin without an external connection from the aircraft.

In Aircalin’s 26-seat business class cabin aboard the A330-900neo, inflight connectivity is to be offered entirely free, while the airline’s new premium economy passengers will receive a free hour of the service. In economy class, the price will be “something around” five Euros, according to chief commercial officer William Le Grand.

The exact performance for this level of pricing was less clear: Le Grand spoke extensively about using the system for “relatively simple activities” like emails, work and chatting, but indicated that downloading movies was not on the cards.

An Aircalin technical specialist confirmed that the GX hardware on board is the Honeywell JetWave MCS-8200 package, underneath a radome that the airline referred to as Zodiac, and which RGN therefore understands is from the Zii, part of Safran Aerosystems.

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Le Grand sat down with RGN to explain Aircalin’s thinking (in French; Le Grand’s remarks are paraphrased here in translation by the author) at the delivery of the airline’s first A330-900neo at Airbus headquarters in Blagnac.

Aircalin chose Global Xpress Ka-band service because of its performance and because it is least affected by coverage blackspots in the Pacific region, Le Grand said. At present, both Viasat Ka and various connectivity providers’ Ku coverage suffer from gaps.

Aircalin’s current A330-200s operate to Tokyo daily and less than daily to Osaka, Papeete and Sydney, but the airline has been putting out the message that it is looking to expand its longhaul operations, with particular discussion of the China market. Pacific blackspots were the reason the airline had not previously invested in inflight connectivity, Le Grand said.

Aircalin executives highlighted the development of the new flat-panel antennas being developed by Zii but noted that the product was not ready by the aircraft’s delivery time. They were unable to give details of any upgrade paths between the current and forthcoming systems.

For the flight deck, meanwhile, the A330-900neo has L-band connectivity, also from Inmarsat. The system is the Honeywell MCS-7200, which provides multi-channel access including up to two SwiftBroadband channels for secure data. Aircalin cited its antenna as the CMC Electronics (part of Esterline) CMA-2102, which RGN imagines will be the -2102SB version to support SwiftBroadband.

Given the remoteness of New Caledonia, Aircalin’s decision makes a lot of sense – the airline is able to use the larger pipe of Global Xpress for cabin connectivity and operational benefits, and critical safety services will transmit via the L-band connection.

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