Inflight connectivity has become a key factor in the passenger experience

For airlines, deciding which inflight connectivity system to implement and when has become a business-critical decision.

Passenger feedback suggests Wi-Fi is more important than food—people would rather starve themselves than their devices.

But, as Joe Leader, CEO, Airlines Passenger Experience Association, explained at the outset of an Inflight Connectivity session on Wednesday (October 25), airlines are assaulted with a barrage of conflicting claims, satellites, and systems that only adds to the complexity of the decision.

It was warned that airlines shouldn’t think glibly of swapping out one system and plugging in another, like a SIM card

Standardization—in both system architecture and language—will be essential for airlines to compare like with like.

When the subject was discussed by a panel, however, it was warned that airlines shouldn’t think glibly of swapping out one system and plugging in another, like a SIM card.

Nevertheless, Jags Burhm, Senior Vice President, Eutelsat (pictured), said that there is a middle ground between such simplicity and the complexity that currently exists, “and we are getting closer to that.”

Aside from having the flexibility to swap providers, standardization would make the cost of that exchange cheaper.

Airlines must think about all the services and solutions enabled by connectivity

Changing systems can be costly. Structural modifications are required when installing inflight connectivity, holes are drilled, extensive wiring installed. Being able to leave most structural changes untouched would save time and money.

In a market that has yet to reach maturity, these are important considerations for airlines, especially as the panel agreed that ubiquitous connectivity is coming in the near term, and all airlines will need to offer passengers the opportunity to connect.

Jon Norris, Senior Director, Panasonic Avionics, affirmed that as well as the technology, the language used to describe connectivity options has to find common ground.

Talking in terms of megabytes per second means little to the average passenger. Rather, he said, they want to know if a phone call will drop, if they can attach a document to an email, and if they can stream content.

Passenger connectivity is not the only consideration, though. Airlines must think about all the services and solutions enabled by connectivity. That includes what happens on the flight deck.

Communication tools such as the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) can be expensive. At the moment, about 80% of ACARS use is operational, 20% applies to safety requirements.

Ultimately, some operational communication could switch to cheaper inflight connectivity.

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