It has been reported today that AirNet Technology, the parent company of Chinese IFEC company Air Esurfing, has signed an agreement with European powerhouse Lufthansa Technik. The strategic cooperation agreement will accelerate the development of inflight connectivity in China with a package of aircraft WiFi retrofits for the nation’s fleet.
Mr. Grant Zhou, COO of AirNet, commented in a press statement,
“We are pleased to partner up with Lufthansa Technik to provide our customers with a comprehensive solution to embrace IFC ranging from design engineering and certification of connectivity solutions and provide material supply and material handling services for installations. This cooperation will further enhance our ability to provide a highly tailorable solution to meet the increasing growth of high-speed inflight connectivity in China.”
Details of the agreement
The agreement states that Lufthansa Technik will design and certify Ka-band based connectivity retrofit packages for narrowbody aircraft in China. This includes the A320ceo and neo family, as well as the Boeing 737NG and MAX.
Having Lufthansa Technik on board will also help in getting the right certification for airlines. They have said they will work with Air Esurfing (ARE) in getting CAAC approved EASA Supplemental Type Certificates (VSTC) to support airlines.
More importantly, Lufthansa Technik will supply the retrofit packages for the aircraft and deal with the material handling for the installation of the packages. This will enable them to be tailored to the specific needs of the customers of ARE.
Senior Vice President of Lufthansa Technik Gerald Steinhoff commented in a press release,
“The partnership with ARE is a significant step in Lufthansa Technik’s global focus to meet a promising market demand in China. As a joint force, we shall exploit the full potentials of Chinese market.”
The future of Chinese inflight WiFi
WiFi onboard aircraft in China has been a long time coming. Less than 10% of the civil aviation fleet in the nation offers any connectivity at all. It was only last year that the CAAC allowed the use of smartphones inflight, and since then the market has been racing to catch up with the rest of the world.
Last year, Astronics was selected by Air Esurfing to support the equipage of narrowbody aircraft, specifically to provide supplemental type certification work for the antenna and distribution service within the cabin, amongst other things.
Lufthansa Technik became involved in the project some time ago too, having signed an MoU to install high speed Ka- and Ku-band antenna and distribution systems in the narrowbody fleet in 2017. At the time, the agreement was fairly niche, involving around 200 airframes in total. Today’s announcement of the MoU translating into a full partnership could mean the project is much larger than originally anticipated.
China’s largest airlines sport hundreds of narrowbody aircraft, with a fairly even split across the A320 family and 737 family of planes. Current research suggests that only 10% of the civil aviation fleet of China is connected, making a huge market for Lufthansa Technik to tap into.