LONDON: British Airways plans to carry out an inflight connectivity trial later this year on one of its Boeing 747s, but is undecided on whether to eventually roll out onboard Wi-Fi because it believes that there remains “lots of nervousness” around the issue.
The London Heathrow-based carrier will begin a 12-month connectivity trial on an unspecified date this year using Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band satellite-supported Internet system, BA inflight entertainment and technology manager Richard D’Cruze told the APEX Editor’s Blog yesterday at a media event to mark the arrival of its first Airbus A380.
Mobile telephone connectivity will also be offered through airborne GSM service provider AeroMobile, although this will not extend to voice calls. “Based on feedback, our customers don’t want voice calls on flights,” says D’Cruze.
The trial will not be limited to a specific route, but will take place “wherever the aircraft flies”.
D’Cruze believes “the jury is still out” on the benefits of offering inflight Wi-Fi, pointing out that “airlines that do offer it say penetration rates are low”. He adds that “there is always some issue with wireless”, which has led to there still being “lots of nervousness around”.
During the trial, BA will take a close look at pricing models for offering inflight connectivity. “We’ll be looking at testing different price points and every quarter we’ll play around with the prices to see what is the optimum price for take-up,” explains D’Cruze. Passengers taking part in the trial will be surveyed in order to help BA build a clearer picture of the strength of demand and level of use of connecting to the Internet at 30,000ft.
While BA has chosen Panasonic for the trial, it has “no further commitment” with the supplier. “Based on the trial results, we will carry out a competitive tender,” says D’Cruze. If the carrier does decide to roll out inflight Wi-Fi following the trial, it will use the results to determine how and where to offer the service.
“We will see what take-up is across cabins and routes,” says D’Cruze. “It wouldn’t make sense to fit a connectivity system on older aircraft so ideally we would want a linefit solution on new aircraft.”
BA yesterday took delivery of the first of 12 A380s at its London Heathrow base. Recognising that “power is now essential in every cabin” due to the growing number of passengers bringing personal electronic devices onboard, the A380s will offer access to an in-seat power supply to all passengers, says D’Cruze.
Economy class passengers will have to share power points, which will be distributed “two on every quad seat and two on every triple”. Passengers in First Class, Business Class and Premium Economy will each have access to their own 110v power socket.
BA will join a growing list of airlines embarking on trials of inflight connectivity, including rival European carrier Air France-KLM which kicked off its pilot programme in March. The Franco-Dutch airline also opted for Panasonic’s ‘eXConnect’ inflight Internet system.
Air France-KLM aims to begin rolling out inflight Wi-Fi services across its long-haul fleet in the 2014-2016 timeframe, depending on the results of its trial.