SEATTLE: Many milestones marked the delivery of the first Boeing 787 widebody jet to South American airline group LAN – the first delivery of the twinjet to a carrier in the Americas and LAN’s distinction of being the first airline to have Panasonic’s eX2 IFE system fully integrated into B/E Aerospace’s slimline Pinnacle economy-class seat, and delivered line-fit.
But the company seems to be taking a measured approach in evolving its connectivity options on the new jet after pioneering other new elements of the passenger experience on board the aircraft.
There are some subtleties on the LAN 787 that differ from the current long-haul IFE offering, including new touch screens in the seatbacks of the Pinnacle economy-class seats. In the business-class cabin, passengers have two options for controlling their screens, by remote or through touch screen.
With respect to content, LAN travel experience director Fernanda Toro tells the APEX editor’s blog that for now the IFE content offered in economy on the 787 will mirror the carrier’s offering on long-haul routes operated by the company’s 767 and Airbus A340 aircraft; this includes 47 films, 123 channels of television programming, 750 music CDs and 20 games accessible through a 8.9in high definition screen (the 787 economy class seat-back screen is 9in).
Toro says LAN is working on a new content strategy, and is considering an expansion of its options. As it carries out the evaluation LAN is planning to trial wireless IFE on its Airbus narrowbodys in 2013; this will allow passengers to stream content on their personal portable electronic devices.
But inflight connectivity appears to be further off on the horizon for the carrier even though LAN’s merger partner TAM has been a customer of connectivity provider OnAir since trialling the service on narrowbodies in late 2010. A subsequent extension of the pact between the two companies expanded the offering to 26 Airbus narrowbodies, allowing passengers to make and receive calls, send text messages and surf the Internet on smart phones and BlackBerrys. TAM later forged an agreement with OnAir to offer the connectivity solution on its widbody fleet, which includes Airbus A330-200s, and 777-300ERs and Airbus A350s currently on order.
LAN, however, remains unconvinced there is a viable alternative available for it at the present time.The company continues to monitor the market, but Toro states the carrier has not made any decision with respect to connectivity. “It is up to the market,” she explains, noting the prime conditions for considering connectivity are “when the technology is good enough in our region and when the cost is right”.
LAN’s line-fit connectivity optons for the 787 are limited; Boeing has not offered a firm commitment to install Ku-band connectivity at the factory for the twinjet.
Other carriers outside of Chile have concluded viable long-haul connectivity solutions do exist. LAN’s oneworld alliance partner American Airlines in December of this year expects to be the first carrier in the Americas to offer wireless connectivity on long-haul flights when it debuts its first 777-300ER widebody on service from its Dallas/Fort Worth hub to Sao Paulo, Brazil. LAN does not plan to debut 787 service to the US until January 2013 – on a Santiago-Lima-Los Angeles pairing – so the carrier could reconsider accelerating its connectivity evaluations as more airlines operating to South America offer passengers the option of remaining connected on long-haul flights.
Meanwhile, LAN’s ability to secure integrated IFE/seats line-fit on the 787 was a significant accomplishment given the challenges that other 787 customers – including United Airlines – have encountered in the face of delivery schedules that have slipped significantly.
The original delivery date for LAN’s first 787 was in 2011, and as acceptance of the aircraft slipped into 2012 the company says it worked hard to ensure the integrated product would be available on the first aircraft. “From the beginning we wanted state-of-the-art IFE,” states LAN VP of fleet projects Justin Siegel. He explains it was tough to execute project planning given the programme delays, but the carrier, Boeing and the seat manufacturer B/E worked together to ensure the integrated seats were line-fit on the 787. “By last year we were confident we were going to make it,” Siegel says.
Another element of the new 787 that generated long discussion was the signature option LED-lit archway offered by Boeing. LAN joins ANA as the only other 787 operator opting to feature the archway on its jets. The archway divides two sections of LAN’s 30 premium business class seats.
Noting that long discussions took place in ultimately deciding to include the archway on the LAN 787, Siegel says the carrier concluded it was worth sacrificing bin and seat space to feature an interior element LAN saw as key to the 787 experience. Other carriers including JAL, Ethiopian and United have opted not to use aircraft space for an archway.
LAN believes certain nuances are necessary to distinguish its aircraft and passenger experience from its competitors, which are multiplying rapidly now that the carrier has combined with TAM to create one of the largest airline groups in the world. But for now the company is relishing the specific distinctions it has created for its 787, and continues to evaluate ways to set itself apart from rivals within Latin America and around the world.