SITAONAIR and Emirates extend contract on inflight connectivity

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Passenger using a laptop on board an aircraft
A passenger using a laptop in flight. Image: Emirates.

SITAONAIR and Emirates have extended their partnership to deliver passenger inflight connectivity solutions across its fleet of A380 and B777 aircraft for a further four years.

The news follows the recent rollout of personalised inflight connectivity for members of the airline’s loyalty program, Emirates Skywards, through SITAONAIR’s onboard Wi-Fi hub, Internet ONAIR.

The project was awarded the “Best Personalisation Innovation” award at the 2017 APEX EXPO in September.

SITAONAIR says the extended deal, covering 279 aircraft, underlines Emirates’ continued focus on passenger connectivity excellence by providing harmonised and seamless inflight internet access to passengers around the globe.

The new contract covers Mobile ONAIR and Internet ONAIR on all A380 aircraft, and Internet ONAIR on the B777 fleet.

David Lavorel, CEO of SITAONAIR, said: “We are extremely proud to expand the relationship with our long-standing airline customer, Emirates. We have worked closely with Emirates over the years to achieve their connected aircraft vision, and look forward to continually driving cabin connectivity innovation for the benefit of Emirates passengers.”

Emirates is the world’s largest A380 operator, with 100 A380 aircraft in its fleet all equipped with SITAONAIR cabin connectivity.

But the future of inflight connectivity on the Emirates A380 fleet remains uncertain. Originally fitted with Inmarsat’s L-band SwiftBroadband solution, its 432kbps speeds is now looking a little slow when compared with the latest Ku and Ka-band high-bandwidth multi-megabit offerings.

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The current back-seat on the aircraft says the maximum speed is 864kbps, which sounds very much like two-channel bonded SwiftBroadband in streaming mode. The Emirates B777 is said to offer “1-3Mbps”. That is, Panasonic Ku-band.

Eagle-eyed observers may have noticed that some Emirates A380s have been fitted with Ku-band radomes. An Airbus source told me that about 20 of them have now been fitted with Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band GCS inflight connectivity, while retaining the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband, possibly as part of a trial.

The SB is being retained for safety services and back-up in case of loss of the Ku signal.

But the future of the fleet, in terms of what will be retrofitted and/or become line-fit, remains unclear as no official announcement has been made.

Behind the scenes, at least three major suppliers claim to be in the frame for upgraded and line-fit connectivity on the Emirates A380 and it was hoped that an announcement might be made at this week’s Dubai Airshow.

That now doesn’t look likely to happen, but a Panasonic Ku radome is on the A380 on display at the show.

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