Even as Indian carriers lag behind in introducing inflight connectivity for passengers, there is action in the Asia-Pacific region, which is expected to account for roughly 40% of new commercial aircraft deliveries over the next 20 years.
Inmarsat, which has high hopes for the region, says six AirAsia aircraft have been fitted with its GX Aviation Ka-band connectivity system.
The service offers an improved experience over the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-powered texting solution on offer at AirAsia.
Passengers can avail of MB packages of data for the GX service, a model that is being increasingly adopted by airlines but which is not without its detractors. A 200MB package for MYR58 (roughly $14US) is positioned by AirAsia as being the “best for streaming”.
For its part, AirAsia is thrilled to be offering GX on half-a-dozen aircraft. The company’s RedBeat Ventures subsidiary, ROKKI, manages the service, which has been integrated into its broader entertainment and e-commerce platform.
“Some people are noticing what we are doing,” enthused AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes in a tweet. He added: “Making products affordable and increasing quality. Bravo!”
The service is slated to be implemented fleet-wide across AirAsia’s Airbus A320 and A330 models in 2020. This requires installation of the Honeywell JetWave terminals atop AirAsia’s fuselages, a time-consuming endeavor. But AirAsia may be compelled to quickly equip, as passengers are eager to get online.
@AirAsia Good morning, I have a question bout D7 flight, is there WiFi provided and how much do I need to pay if the destination is Osaka?
— AleeneJiaNing (@AleeneJia) December 10, 2019
Other GX Aviation airline customers in the Asia-Pacific region include Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines and Philippine Airlines.
But new business opportunities abound. The Asia-Pacific region is expected to become the largest single market for broadband-enabled services in the next two decades, says Inmarsat regional vice president APAC Chris Rogerson, and Inmarsat believes it is in the right position to help them realize the full potential of a fully connected fleet today.
“We foresee that by 2021 the majority of airlines will be offering inflight connectivity,” Rogerson tells RGN.
Whether these carriers will ultimately offer free Internet browsing remains to be seen. Air New Zealand has already done it, and passengers are pleased. Inmarsat Aviation president Philip Balaam tells RGN that when a free WiFi service first goes live, passengers tend to push the system hard, but that “usage tends to settle back into more normal usage” thereafter.
Regarding the free model, he says, “I strongly suspect that that’s a trend that we will see in general over time” or at least “a component of free. Now whether you provide full free and full free to everyone is something else. That’s more of a segmentation issue than anything else. But the idea of having ubiquitous free service to some level of SLA [service level agreement], I think we are on that journey.”
In addition to supporting cabin connectivity, airlines are adopting GX for operational benefits, including real-time mapping for pilot electronic flight bags (EFBs) as well as other real-time crew and health monitoring applications.
But GX is not the only service on offer for Asia-Pacific carriers. Among competitors in the space, Panasonic Avionics has an entrenched position in the region, counting several Chinese airlines as customers for its eXConnect-branded Ku-band connectivity solution, in addition to All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Garuda Indonesia, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.
Last year, Panasonic further bolstered its connectivity portfolio by becoming a strategic value added reseller for GX. Intriguingly, Rogerson tells RGN that the deal also enables Inmarsat to offer Panasonic’s NEXT IFE solutions to Inmarsat’s commercial aviation customers.
“Over the past year, Inmarsat and Panasonic have made significant progress with aligning our processes and systems. This has been our core focus… [covering] important areas such as sales process, contracts, technology and operations processes,” he says.
India, meanwhile, one of the fastest growing countries in civil aviation, is still in a huddle over inflight connectivity. Last year, licenses for In-flight and Maritime Communications (IFMC) were cleared by regulators.
Inmarsat’s Indian teleco partner, state-owned telco BSNL, holds approval to offer connectivity to Indian airlines operating within and outside India, as well as foreign airlines transiting through Indian airspace. “As a result, Inmarsat will be set to begin offering GX Aviation services over Indian skies from early 2020,” assures Rogerson.
Some carriers are already primed to offer the GX service to passengers. Indian budget carrier SpiceJet, for instance, has GX equipment installed on 13 Boeing MAX 737s. But these, like the rest of the MAX world fleet, have been grounded since last March.
Even when the MAX is recertified, a hurdle awaits. Clearances are required from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for a foreign satellite to be used.
Additional reporting by Mary Kirby
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