Emirates Airbus A380-861 jet departing from Zurich in Switzerland. It offers connectivity to passengers

Exclusive: SITA confirms it is exiting cabin inflight connectivity


Global air transport communications and IT company SITA, which boasts a proud history in the inflight connectivity sector and counts heavy-hitters like Emirates and Singapore Airlines as customers for its Inmarsat-powered services, has confirmed it is exiting the cabin IFC business. It has set a final service exit date of 31 January 2025.

The move comes as the commercial IFC landscape is consolidating and rapidly evolving, with several vertically integrated satellite operators — including Intelsat, Inmarsat, Viasat and lately SpaceX — responding directly to airline RFPs and serving as aero ISPs, and indeed as new multi-orbit IFC solutions (which tap into LEO/GEO and MEO/GEO satellites) see traction.

Notably, US-based Viasat is seeking to acquire London-headquartered Inmarsat; the deal awaits European approval.

“[W]e have decided to move out of the inflight cabin connectivity (IFC) domain. The market is changing, and we are changing with it. We decided to exit a highly competitive market, ultimately leaving too little space for an independent IFC service provider like SITA,” Yann Cabaret, CEO of SITA For Aircraft, confirmed to Runway Girl Network, after an attendee at last week’s APEX TECH conference in Los Angeles let the proverbial cat out of the bag.

According to SITA’s web site, some 1,000-plus aircraft are fitted with its cabin connectivity services. The company is a longtime value added reseller and integrator for both Inmarsat SwiftBroadband L-band and Global Xpress Ka-band satellite-supported aero connectivity services in the cabin, adding China Airlines, for instance, to its client roster last year. (SITA separately supports cockpit comms and safety via Inmarsat L-band services. This announcement is pertinent to SITA’s cabin connectivity work only.)

RGN asked SITA if its choice to exit the market was colored by either Airbus’ decision to offer a linefit, supplier furnished HBCPlus IFC program to airlines (which thus far has carved out a clear role for managed service providers versus classic integrators) or indeed Inmarsat’s decision to increasingly serve the market directly, which began roughly six years ago and was perhaps cemented with the launch of its new OneFi portal for airlines. (Inmarsat was the first satellite operator to be named a MSP to power Ka-band IFC as part of HBCplus.)

SITA’s Cabaret stated:

The Airbus HBCplus program effectively allows airlines to get more flexibility in the choice of their passenger service provider, so it has not been a parameter in our decision.

We will continue to focus on other prime business areas where we see considerable growth and can make a significant difference to our airline customers, such as digital applications for operational efficiency and supporting more sustainable aircraft operations.

We will therefore cease over time to provide internet access and cellular services on-board aircraft and the satellite backhaul for these services.

Our decision has no impact at all on the many other aircraft communication services we provide, and in which we continue to invest.

Our IFC customers are well aware of our decision (they were informed earlier this year). We are now working on orderly transition planning, minimizing customer disruption while accompanying them as they migrate to an alternative provider that they choose.

It is not immediately clear if all of SITA’s cabin connectivity customers will simply migrate to Inmarsat. But Inmarsat has indicated it is assisting airlines as they transition from SITA’s services to Inmarsat.

“[W]e’re working through a transition period with SITA and the airlines to ensure that there’s no issues with it transitioning over,” said Inmarsat regional vice president, Middle East, Neale Faulkner at APEX TECH.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “I can’t give too many details. There’s an airline-by-airline perspective that would have to take this question on, unfortunately.”

An Inmarsat spokesperson told RGN today that: “Inmarsat Aviation and SITA For Aircraft are liaising with each of the affected airlines to support a smooth transition as required, so they can continue to deliver seamless global connectivity to their passengers via Inmarsat Aviation’s award-winning solutions.”

There have been rumblings in the market about SITA’s positioning for months. But the writing may have been on the wall in January 2023, when news dropped that Emirates had tapped Inmarsat’s GX service for 50 Airbus A350s and Inmarsat confirmed to RGN that the deal “marked the beginning of a direct partnership between Emirates and Inmarsat”.

In fact, Emirates has played a key role in SITA’s near 20-year cabin IFC story arc. A pioneer in onboard connectivity, the Dubai-based carrier in 2004 adopted a narrowband email service from Tenzing Communications — a Seattle-based software firm which later merged its operations into a new company, OnAir, comprising a joint venture between majority-owner SITA and 33% owner Airbus.

The OnAir JV, which proved somewhat controversial given Airbus’ role, went on to win key inflight GSM and Wi-Fi deals, including with Emirates.

In 2013, Airbus officially exited the inflight connectivity service business, selling its stake in OnAir to SITA, which became known as SITAONAIR whilst continuing to hold a strong relationship with the airframer.

Even when Emirates went multi-source on IFC hardware, selecting Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band system for some aircraft, it retained SITAONAIR as integrator and aero ISP, tapping the firm for a full portal personalization program across the disparate fleets.

Now Geneva-based SITA, like Airbus before it (and indeed Boeing before that), is exiting the cabin connectivity service side of the space.


RGN sought follow-up comment from Inmarsat and its other GX value added resellers, including Thales, to understand if a broader shift of the GX VAR ecosystem is afoot.

An Inmarsat spokesperson said today: “SITA For Aircraft’s decision to move out of the inflight cabin connectivity domain will not impact Inmarsat Aviation’s other VAR partnerships. This is a symptom of the increasingly competitive environment in the IFC sector, which is causing companies to reassess their strategic priorities.”

Panasonic Avionics, also technically a GX VAR in name, last year told RGN that it had decided to focus on its own Ku-band network, noting that the planned consolidation of Viasat and Inmarsat “adds complexity that we haven’t fully thought through yet”.

For roughly 15 years, Panasonic’s AeroMobile unit has competed with the OnAir-later-SITAONAIR inflight GSM service, but Panasonic recently admitted that inflight Wi-Fi has effectively won the battle over cellular on board aircraft. And indeed, as mobile network operators increasingly include inflight access in their offers, key airlines and IFC stakeholders are now working as part of the Seamless Air Alliance to provide a more frictionless Wi-Fi experience for passengers.

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Featured image of Emirates A380 credited to istock.com/Robert Buchel