Why 2020 will be the year everyone’s talking about Inmarsat’s EAN

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The European Aviation Network (EAN) has been quietly rumbling away in the background of European aerospace this year. Millions of passengers on tens of thousands of flights have already experienced the benefits of this Inmarsat developed network, but really, this year has just been the beginning.

Iberia A320
Iberia was one of the first airlines to use the EAN. Photo: Iberia

Get Connected caught up with Dominic Walters, Vice President at Inmarsat Aviation, to get an update on the rollout of the EAN, and to find out why 2020 will be the year that it really takes off.

Where is the EAN right now?

As most will be aware, the EAN has been built by Inmarsat in partnership with Deutsche Telekom. It utilizes 4G ATG (air to ground) connectivity in one direction, with support from Inmarsat’s advanced S-band satellite in the other. This gives uninterrupted connectivity both over land and in those places where flights pass across the ocean. It’s a network that’s been designed in Europe, for Europe’s unique needs, and is set to blaze a trail in getting more short-haul flights connected.

BA ipad
BA launched the EAN earlier this year. Photo: BA

Earlier this year, British Airways became the first airline to start using the EAN. As their parent, IAG, was to be the launch customer, it naturally followed that its sister companies Iberia and then Vueling were next to receive the technology. Walters told us,

“We currently have about 100 connected aircraft flying today. BA, obviously, is the trailblazer for EAN closely followed by Iberia and now Vueling. BA has been testing and optimizing, and for them digitization is very important. They want to get it right, so they’ve been trailing it, working on it and optimizing all the time.”

Although none of the carrier have completed a total short-haul fleet rollout of the system yet, the information and learning that’s been going on this year has been incredibly valuable. It’s given Inmarsat and airlines alike a means to really refine and perfect the solution, ready to take it full scale in the coming year.

Connected in flight
Short-haul European fliers can look forward to staying connected. Photo: Inmarsat

Of course, that’s not to say that it’s not been widely available already. Walters explained the penetration of the EAN so far, saying,

“Right now, it’s accessible on over 250 routes across Europe, routes from London to Madrid, Barcelona, Geneva, Rome… all of those routes with BA and Iberia offering it. I think there are approximately five and a half million passengers who have been able to connect with EAN. That equates to some 35,000 flights.”

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That’s a great start for the EAN, but what can we expect to see next?

What can we expect from 2020?

While 2019 has been very much a suck-it-and-see year for the EAN, 2020 is shaping up to be a year of starting to push it to other carriers. Walters said,

“I would say 2019 has been the year of optimization of EAN. 2020 is the year where you’re going to see it really break out of the gate. Everyone is going to be talking about it nonstop … This is the year of infancy… next year is going to be the teenage years! As we move into 2020 we will see it bursting out and screaming.”

Vueling is the first low-cost carrier to connect to the EAN. Photo: Vueling

Walters’ confidence in the EAN is not misplaced. It’s a proven network with a bunch of features that make it the perfect solution even for low-cost carriers.

For a start, the hardware is super small and lightweight, meaning there’s less drag and additional weight to consider. The simple installation can be completed in as little as nine hours, meaning an aircraft can effectively be equipped with everything it needs for the EAN overnight. This is important for all carries, as they are typically reluctant to take any aircraft out of service if it can be helped.

While we can safely say we fully expect to see more airlines offering EAN connectivity in 2020, Inmarsat are being suitably tight-lipped regarding who could be next. Walters told us,

“We’re talking to a number of airlines about it.”

As always, it will be the privilege of the airline to announce any partnership with Inmarsat, so watch this space. Whoever it may be, Inmarsat is comfortably confident that the EAN is a gamechanger for European short-haul flights. For passengers, airlines and flight crew, this is very good news indeed.

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