China airlines have sights on a future with inflight connectivity

An Air China Airbus A330. Image: Wikipedia, Curimedia.
An Air China Airbus A330. Image: Wikipedia, Curimedia.

China is fast catching up with the western world in terms of its take-up of inflight connectivity and inflight Wi-FI.

China’s three state-owned carriers — Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines are all currently offering free Wi-Fi on a trial basis, while privately-owned Spring Airlines and Juneyao Airlines have aspirations to introduce e-commerce via inflight Wi-Fi over the next three years, according to Guangzhou’s “Time Weekly”.

In March Air China announced it had partnered with Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) to broadcast a Xinhua News Agency newscast while in flight using GEE’s Ku-band connectivity. The newscast included live television from the National People Congress / Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conferences (NPC/CPPCC) and was shown aboard Air China’s inflight connectivity-equipped Boeing 777 aircraft.

In 2014 Thales also announced Air China had selected its TopFlight SATCOM satellite communications solution for its 22 Boeing 737 aircraft, which are scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2016.

The TopFlight SATCOM (TFS) is a lightweight ARINC 781 L-band SATCOM system that operates over Inmarsat’s I-3 and I-4 satellite constellations.

A lot has been going on behind the scenes to enable inflight connectivity over the country. Inmarsat committed to building a satellite access station (SAS) in China a few years ago as part of the route to enabling SwiftBroadband use over the country.

An Air China Airbus A330 flying from Beijing to Chengdu became the first Chinese airline flight equipped with passenger Wi-Fi internet access. The aircraft used Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband (432kbps) service provided by the company’s Chinese partner MCN.

The SwiftBroadband-based cabin Wi-Fi connectivity allows passengers to access the internet for web browsing, instant messaging and other applications.

Air China is also believed to be slated as one of the first airlines to try Inmarsat’s high-speed Global Xpress (GX) Aviation service.

Air China and Honeywell Aerospace signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February 2014 to install and test GX on Air China’s A330 aircraft.

Beijing Marine Communication Navigation Company (MCN) also recently signed Value Added Reseller (VAR) agreements with Inmarsat to bring GX to commercial and public sector organisations across China.

Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat, said then: “MCN has been a partner for Inmarsat in China for many decades and we are delighted that this relationship is extending to our latest and most powerful satellite communication service; Global Xpress.

“China is one of the biggest markets for Inmarsat’s mobile satellite-based voice and broadband services, delivering double digit growth in the last five years and we are confident that there will be significant demand for GX.”

In June “China Daily” reported that China Eastern Airlines had become the first national carrier to provide inflight Wi-Fi services on both domestic and international flights.

It said the carrier had received approval from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology to use the AsiaSat-6 satellite for inflight Wi-Fi on its 21 aircraft.

China Eastern also said it plans to offer inflight connectivity on its Airbus 330 and Boeing 777-300ER aircraft for long-haul routes.

In April Panasonic Avionics also celebrated two contract wins from China for its inflight entertainment and communication (IFEC) systems.

Xiamen Airlines selected Panasonic to equip its new fleet of Boeing Dreamliners with global connectivity and inflight entertainment systems.

China Southern Airlines, Asia’s largest airline, is also to be the launch customer for Panasonic Avionics’ eXO overhead in-flight entertainment system.

The eXO system is designed with single-aisle aircraft in mind and China Southern has chosen it for its new narrow-bodied fleet of Airbus A320s and A321s, being delivered from early in 2016.

China Eastern Airlines (CEA) is also offering broadband inflight connectivity over China using China Telecom Satellite’s aeronautical service and Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band eXConnect system.

We can no doubt expect many other China-related inflight connectivity announcements over the next year.

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