Should an airline stick to one inflight connectivity supplier?

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Graphic showing questions marksThere is no shortage of inflight connectivity suppliers on the market, offering a bewildering array of air-to-ground (ATG), L-band, Ku-band and Ka-band systems.

But when choosing a system does it make sense for an airline to have the same system throughout its fleet, or should it mix and match?

The pros and cons are numerous. If you have one system then the maintenance and support becomes much easier. But is it wise to put all your eggs in one basket? Or should you choose the right supplier for each aircraft type and route?

To a large extent that will depend upon where you are flying and what you want to achieve.

For example, a regional airline that never flies outside of the continental USA might be well advised to look at Gogo’s ATG system?

In future, an airline that only flies over Europe may be best advised to invest in Inmarsat’s upcoming ATG or terrestrial network, which promises fast speeds (using 4G LTE technology), very low latency (there is no delay due to satellites) and low cost per megabyte.

But if you operate a global fleet then Ku currently offers the best option for a fast, high-bandwidth solution – at least until Inmarsat gets its Global Xpress solution fully launched and ViaSat offers more Ka bandwidth across the world through new satellites and deals with existing Ka operators.

Inmarsat’s older L-band SwiftBroadband system also has its place, if only for the certified safety services (ATC) that should be introduced in due course.

At the recent Future Travel Experience Europe conference in London “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols put the headline question to three industry professionals.

This is what they had to say:

Dave Bruner, Vice President of Global Communications Services, Panasonic Avionics

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“We are a little different in that we have adopted a single, consistent delivery approach for the entire world. We put extra satellite capacity in areas where there are more aeroplanes, and less capacity in areas where it is not needed.

“To do that we use a number of different satellite providers who use the same technology and put the same piece of equipment on every aircraft in a fleet.

“This means there is no variation in service across both wide-body and narrow-body aircraft. This gives a consistent service across an entire fleet, which is what airlines like and want.”

David Coiley, Vice President Aviation, Inmarsat

“We are certainly seeing a desire in the market to have a standardised product across a fleet, or sub-fleet. Airlines generally are adopting one system for, perhaps, their wide-body fleets, but are prepared to look at other solutions for their narrow-body aircraft, for example.

“The main factor is the routes that the aircraft will fly on and the aim is to get a consistent experience on all routes.

“You can generally really only do that with a truly-global service like Inmarsat’s.”

Paul Lawrie, Director of Sales EUMEA, Thales/Live TV

“Consistency is obviously very important to airlines. But you must also be flexible enough to have a system that can provide the right amount of bandwidth on many different routes. Otherwise, you could end up in a situation where you can’t use a particular aircraft type on a different route because the connectivity won’t work properly.

“Also, airlines do have concerns where one of its competitors choose one supplier, which could effectively use up all the bandwidth on a particular satellite on a particular route.”

All agreed that it is really a case of selecting the right solution for the task – and there are a lot of solutions on offer.

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