Air France-KLM will begin its inflight connectivity trial in the second half of March and aims to begin rolling out on-board Wi-Fi services across its long-haul fleet in the 2014-2016 timeframe, depending on the results of the pilot programme.
In an interview with the APEX editor’s blog, Air France-KLM head of R&D inflight services Peter Verheidje said the trial would continue until the end of 2013 using a Boeing 777-300 aircraft from each airline.
“We are finalising the exact date [on which the connectivity trial will begin] but it will be in the second half of March,” says Verheidje. The routes on which inflight connectivity will be tested are also being finalised and destinations under discussion span North America, South America, Africa and Asia.
Air France-KLM has partnered with Panasonic Avionics for the pilot and will offer the company’s ‘eXConnect’ inflight Internet system, which uses Ku-band satellite technology, and its eXPhone mobile connectivity service.
Following the trial, Air France-KLM expects “a phased approach” to rolling out inflight connectivity across its long-haul network.
“Our conviction is this is the way the future is going,” says Verheidje, adding that “we would like to roll it out as soon as possible but this will depend on the feedback from the pilot”. Verheidje expects wider deployment to take place somewhere between 2014 and 2016.
At the end of the first month there will be an initial feedback session, with a full evaluation due to take place at the end of the year.
In addition to feedback from customers, Air France-KLM will be monitoring technical performance, including coverage and speed, with a particular emphasis on “what happens when passengers all try to connect at the same time”, says Verheidje.
During the trial, telephone communications will be limited to sending text messages and emails from passengers’ Wi-Fi enabled smartphones. With regard to eventually allowing customers to make inflight calls, Verheidje says: “We’re considering voice calls but we realise this is a sensitive subject – this would be done cautiously and only when it would not negatively affect other passengers.”
Using their Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, laptops or tablet PCs, passengers will be able to access the Internet at a fixed rate, regardless of which cabin they are in.
During the trial a number of free services will be available, including live news feeds, live TV offering coverage of events such as summer sporting activities, as well as live weather, destination information and inflight magazines.
Picture credit: airteamimages.com