BARCELONA, SPAIN: Emirates president Tim Clark is a busy man. When he’s not being asked to explain why Emirates has acquired billions of dollars worth of new Airbus and Boeing aircraft – new as in ‘shrink wrapped’ new – and fending off accusations that the fast-growing carrier has an ‘unfair advantage’ over European competitors, he still finds time to talk about the passenger experience.
That’s correct. After being grilled today by easyJet non-executive director, Professor Rigas Doganis about myriad topics at the Aircraft Finance and Commercial Aviation (AFCA) conference in Barcelona, I managed to pull the ever calm, cool and collected Clark aside for a few minutes to talk about the passenger experience, or as we like to refer to it on Twitter, #PaxEx.
Emirates is renowned for its onboard #PaxEx; every passenger on its widebody aircraft has access to over 1,300 channels of entertainment, including movies, documentaries, television programmes and music, as well as in-seat satellite telephones, SMS and email via Panasonic Avionics-manufactured inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) platforms.
But such IFEC systems are not cheap, and many airlines question whether they are worth such a large investment.
“Well, that’s fine. Let them think like that because we will spend the money, whatever it takes to take us that much further on than them,” Clark told the APEX editor’s blog.
He says Emirates’ IFEC system, dubbed ice, has been “a huge driver” for Emirates since its inception in 1992. And, as always, Emirates continues to innovate in the IFEC space. The carrier recently announced the launch of a new, enhanced graphical user interface, in a bid to bring the same experience, look, and feel available on smart phones and tablets to its customers.
Developed by Panasonic, the interface is first being introduced across Emirates’ A380 fleet and subsequently over the next year across the majority of the carrier’s 777 aircraft that offer Panasonic’s eX2 IFEC platform.
Emirates will roll out a number of additional inflight product enhancements across the next few months as part of a multi-million dollar investment in onboard technology. Larger video screens in all classes will come into operation from May on new 777s, in addition to future Airbus A380 deliveries. An enhanced in-seat telephone handset and new “mode controller” in first and business class will also be introduced.
In addition to ice, Emirates offers Panasonic partner AeroMobile’s inflight mobile connectivity solution on a vast portion of its fleet, allowing passengers to make voice calls and send text messages with their own cell phones. It has also been equipping its Airbus A380s with OnAir’s inflight Wi-Fi solution, which operates over Inmarsat’s L-band satellite-supported SwiftBroadband aeronautical service. A total 20 of 21 A380s have been installed to date; OnAir’s mobile connectivity offering is also slated to be fitted to the A380s.
Emirates VP, corporate communications product, publishing, digital and events Patrick Brannelly says passenger take-up of Wi-Fi on the A380s has been rising ever since the carrier started publicising the service early this year.
For instance, the carrier in January saw usage rates of “under 2%” on long-haul flights over 12 hours, but in February usage grew to 3.5%. At present, Emirates is seeing 4% take-up on 12-plus hour flights, with some services– such as to Sydney or New York – achieving as high as 6.5% take rates.
“We’re playing with pricing and marketing. If awareness was at 100% then we’d know where demand would settle at,” says Brannelly.
Emirates currently charges $2.75 for 5 MB of data for mobile devices, $10 for a 30 MB package for laptops, and $20 for 100 MB of data.
The biggest user to date consumed 680 MB of data on a Dubai-New York flight. “I don’t know what the guy was doing. It was Valentine’s Day,” reveals Brannelly, adding that three of the top four heavy users have been on the Dubai-New York route.
He says there have been virtually no complaints about congestion, and though “sadly” there is only one channel of SwiftBroadband to the cabin, the service has not reached capacity “even on the busiest flight”.
Emirates’ Clark is equally enthused about connectivity, telling the APEX editor’s blog: “If we could get everything [the whole fleet] connected up tomorrow we would.”
Speaking of tomorrow…I’m scheduled to talk to AFCA attendees tomorrow about monetizing their assets, and turning cost centres into profit producers. So, I decided to take this opportunity to ask Clark if he had any advice for me to tell the audience about offering inflight entertainment to passengers.
“Just tell them that those that don’t are fools. Simple,” he says.