FRANKFURT, GERMANY: Lufthansa will launch its inaugural Boeing 747-8I revenue service this morning, flying from its Frankfurt hub to Washington Dulles. Business-class passengers can look forward to trying the carrier’s new full-flat seat, among a host of other special cabin touches and amenities, but one notably absent service in all classes will be inflight Internet.
To date, Lufthansa has equipped 65 long-haul aircraft with Internet in concert with partner Panasonic Avionics. But it is eager to bring the service to the new “Queen of the Skies”, its 747-8Is as well as its Airbus A380s.
Equipage of Lufthansa’s new 747-8Is is expected to begin by the end of the year “with the first STC on aircraft number six”, Lufthansa consumer services consultant and contractor Sabine Hierschbiel told the APEX editor’s blog yesterday during a special ‘Passenger Experience’ day held in advance of today’s inaugural flight. “Once we have the STC we will be able to retrofit the [other] 747-8s.” Lufthansa Technik handles all the retrofits.
Unfortunately, she says, Lufthansa must wait longer to connect its A380s. Earlier this year, Airbus agreed to ultimately make Panasonic’s eXConnect Internet system linefit offerable on the A380, but the process will take time.
“We’re still waiting for it [STC for the A380] so by the end of next year, we hopefully will be able to retrofit the A380s as well,” says Hierschbiel. “For Lufthansa it’s important to offer a connectivity service like you find on the ground on the complete fleet because it’s not explainable to a customer why a brand new aircraft like an A380 would not have such a service if you have it on all other kinds of aircraft so that was one of the main drivers.”
She reports that the service, dubbed FlyNet by Lufthansa, “is working very well. Our passengers are quite happy with it. We get only good recommendations. We know certain routes, very far north, you come to a point where connectivity is not efficient any more. But I think the service overall is very much appreciated and we get much more requests from our customers as to why the fleet is not completed today and why it takes longer. But I think with 65 long-haul aircraft we have the largest Internet connectivity [long-haul] fleet in the world and that is already a good thing.”
Is there enough bandwidth to satiate passengers? “This is something that needs to be validated by Panasonic. Our expectation is that we have a minimum requirement for our customers and in a way that is something for Panasonic to fulfil because for us it is very important that a customer receives what we promise them as a service. We know it’s not going to be like Wi-Fi on the ground, we’re not going to be able to match this, because you have other circumstances like [Ku-band] satellite hopping…but nevertheless, we have set certain expectations of Panasonic and they will do whatever they can to fulfil them.”
Meanwhile, Lufthansa’s IFE service now includes a first integrated live TV channel – Sports 24. The signal is transmitted directly on board by satellite via the FlyNet broadband service and from there to the entertainment system. Unlike the Internet, this service – which is already available on three recently delivered Airbus A330s – is free of charge for passengers.
By August Lufthansa will extend the IPTV channel to the wireless “so when the Olympics start we will have it on all Wi-Fi-enabled aircraft so you can have it free of charge through the portal”, says Hierschbiel.
Mobile connectivity, via Panasonic’s partner AeroMobile, will be offered as soon as possible. “We’re waiting for the STC,” says the Lufthansa executive. Voice will be deactivated, however, “because our passengers are telling us they don’t want to have it”.