British Airways chose Panasonic Avionics as its partner for a planned inflight connectivity trial on a Boeing 747 later this year because it wanted to offer a high bandwidth connection to gain a truer understanding of how its customers would use onboard Wi-Fi.
The London Heathrow-based carrier is installing Thales’ TopSeries inflight entertainment (IFE) system on its new Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s, and already has Thales IFE systems in service on much of its existing long-haul fleet.
However, it has opted to use rival Panasonic’s Ku-band satellite-supported Internet system for the Wi-Fi trial rather than the connectivity service offered by Thales, which is supported by L-band satellites.
“Since we are running a trial to test take-up of connectivity, it makes sense to go with the system that offers the greatest bandwidth, in this case Ku-band,” says D’Cruze. “If we restricted the trial to L-band, then customers would only use what the system was capable of and we could not see if they were using high bandwidth services.
“The Panasonic GCS [Global Communications Suite] Ku-band system was therefore selected because it was an established product offering a high bandwidth connection.”
D’Cruze stresses, however, that the deal with Panasonic represents a trial on one aircraft and “any roll-out would be subject to a full RFP”.
Thales VP inflight entertainment UK and Ireland, Andrew Musgrave, tells the APEX Editor’s Blog that if BA does eventually issue a request for proposals to provide connectivity services across its fleet, then “absolutely, Thales is well-equipped” to take part.
Earlier this year, Thales threw its weight behind Ka-band satellite-supported connectivity when it partnered with Gogo, a service distribution partner for Inmarsat’s forthcoming Global Xpress Ka-band aeronautical service. Gogo plans to begin selling Global Xpress to airline customers in 2014.
Musgrave says that Ka-band is “our roadmap” because Thales believes it offers higher bandwidth and lower price-points than Ku-band. He notes that while Ku-band offers higher bandwidth than L-band, it is “more regional, so you don’t have a seamless service around the world” therefore, “we didn’t see Ku-band as a strong contender because it’s not as global as it should be”.
BA will begin its 12-month connectivity trial on an unspecified date this year. Mobile telephone connectivity will also be offered through airborne GSM service provider – and Panasonic unit – AeroMobile, although this will not extend to voice calls.
BA in 2008 agreed to purchase the Thales TopSeries IFE system for its new delivery and next generation aircraft. The airline has ordered a total of 12 A380s, 24 787s and six Boeing 777-300ERs for delivery over the next four years. The carrier also announced plans in April to order 18 Airbus A350s, although no decision on an IFE supplier has been announced on these aircraft as yet.
Thales IFE systems are currently in service on 34 BA aircraft, representing “7,700 seats of IFE”, says Musgrave, adding: “By the end of December 2014 it will be on 53 aircraft with 14,000 seats. That kind of ramp-up in a year and a half is very important.”
The IFE systems on BA’s new aircraft will be maintained by Thales’ London Heathrow maintenance hub, which Musgrave says the company is hoping to expand. Thales is looking to attract other airline customers that operate services to Heathrow to use its maintenance facility going forward.
- BA places strong emphasis on premium passengers with new A380
- Airbus to broaden IFE options on A350; chief salesman Leahy weighs in
- British Airways to being inflight connectivity trial; admits nervousness
- Thales’ Ka intentions are clear with Gogo partnership
- First IFC, now IFE, would Gogo eye eventual seat partnerships