Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet has hinted it is close to unveiling the path it plans to pursue in the future for in-flight connectivity, and reveals it is studying seat density on its Boeing 737 fleet.
WestJet in 2005 debuted JetBlue subsidiary LiveTV’s system, which was designed to offer free live television and a premium service of pay-per-view (PPV) movies. But with the proliferation of wireless connectivity some industry stakeholders have begun looking outside the traditional audio/video on demand (AVOD) IFE model as passengers can now stream some programming through their own personal devices.
More importantly, WestJet’s main rival Air Canada offers Gogo’s air-to-ground in-flight Wi-Fi on select fights from Toronto and Montreal and from Los Angeles in the US. The Toronto-Montreal pairing is a heavily travelled business market, and during the last year WestJet has increased its presence on the route.
WestJet in June will introduce Samsung Galaxy tablets for rent on board three aircraft. The tablets are being repurposed for IFE by Skycast Solutions, as first revealed by the APEX Editor’s Blog, as part of a trial of SkyCast’s TrayVu Slim offering, which allows customers to clip the tablet to the seatback tray.
Recently WestJet EVP of sales, marketing and guest experience Bob Cummings said the airline has been in confidential discussions with potential IFE partners for roughly two years. At that time the carrier “really started looking at the market with respect to the needs and value of the systems out there and where they’re going over time”.
Part of that research entailed examining the various devices used to deliver content and “the implosion of those tablets and so forth”, Cummings remarks. WestJet evaluated various system weights and costs and now is “pretty close to announcing a path here in the next couple of quarters”.
Pressed if WestJet would need to record a write-off of the LiveTV solution once it reveals its Wi-Fi strategy, carrier CFO Vito Culmone says: “At this time we do not see any write-off related to LiveTV, and see a smooth transition in any potential options as we move forward”.
A WestJet spokeswoman notes: “The entertainment offer is part of our guest experience and as such was not installed on the basis of a ROI (return on investment). We are currently making a profit from the PPV revenue generated from the showing of early-release movies.”
Cummings, meanwhile, says WestJet is forging a path “that works well from all perspectives”.
WestJet is keeping its plans for rolling-out Wi-Fi close to its chest. But it is not out of realm of possibility that WestJet could maintain its relationship with LiveTV by opting for the Ka-band satellite-supported solution offered through a LiveTV-ViaSat partnership. LiveTV’s owner JetBlue plans to begin offering Ka-band-supported Wi-Fi on its first aircraft during the third quarter of this year.
In addition to being close to pulling the trigger on its Wi-Fi offering Calgary-based WestJet is also looking at seat density changes on its Boeing 737 narrowbodies. At present, the carrier’s 737-800s feature a 34in seat pitch while the -600 and -700 models offer a smaller 32in pitch. WestJet CEO Gregg Saretsksy says the range allows the carrier to contemplate a premium seat offering or shrinking the pitch on the -800s to 32in by adding seats to the aircraft. As of 31 March WestJet operated a total of 98 737s – 13 -600s, 16 -800s and 69 -700s.
Canada’s largest carrier Air Canada is also evaluating seat density onboard its aircraft through an active study of a premium economy offering as carrier CEO Calin Rovinescu recently told analysts the airline is well versed in the benefits enjoyed by other carriers who have opted to create an economy class with extended seat pitch. A major factor in Air Canada’s examination is the the capital costs associated with configuring the aircraft with a second economy class, but Rovinescu stressed it was a concept Air Canada is “actively studying”.