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Valour Consultancy’s Craig Foster, a specialist in IFEC market intelligence, paints a brighter picture for the future of embedded in-flight entertainment. 

It might not be a date that immediately evokes strong memories but cast your mind back, if you will, to 25 January 2017. Donald Trump was just getting his feet under the White House desk after a shock election victory two months prior, Roger Federer was rolling back the years on his way to capturing a remarkable 18th grand slam at the Australian Open and, lest we forget, news outlets the world over were united in sounding the death knell for the humble seat-back in-flight entertainment (IFE) system.

And what prompted such proclamations? I hear you ask. American Airlines revealed that it would be eschewing embedded IFE on new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in favour of wireless distribution of content to passengers’ own devices. Yes, the decision by one carrier not to offer the traditional seat-back IFE on one single aircraft type sent the media into a frenzy and resulted in headlines like these:

  • “The death of in-flight entertainment? American Airlines scraps screens and tells fliers to bring their own” – The Telegraph
  • “American Airlines to ditch seat back entertainment” – CNBC
  • “American Airlines does away with seat-back entertainment” – The Economist

I could certainly understand the hullabaloo if American had come to such a decision for say, the 22 A350s it currently has on order, but that fact that it chose not to fit embedded IFE on some narrow-body aircraft is hardly revolutionary. Indeed, an estimated 45% of these aircraft roll off production lines without any form of IFE on board, and around one third of the installed base still, somewhat surprisingly, carries drop-down screens (overhead IFE). It is therefore disingenuous in the extreme to imply that the adoption of wireless IFE (W-IFE) on aircraft that often don’t carry any form of IFE whatsoever is somehow tantamount to the imminent extinction of an entire class of product.

Today, nearly every single wide-body aircraft is delivered with a seat-back system and it would be much more revealing to look at whether W-IFE is making inroads into this market to establish whether a fundamental shift is taking place. The answer is that W-IFE is making inroads, but not at the expense of embedded IFE. In fact, many carriers are installing both W-IFE alongside seat-back screens on their long-haul aircraft. One reason for this is the emergence of second screening where people commonly use their personal electronic devices (PEDs) while watching another screen – a trend most prevalent amongst millennials who are accounting for an increasingly larger percentage of travellers.

Interestingly, it is Philippine Airlines (PAL), which might provide a clue as to how the industry may shake out in the not-too-distant future. Back in 2014, the carrier drew widespread criticism and mixed reviews for choosing to jettison embedded IFE on much of its long-haul fleet. Instead, PAL fitted its A330s and A340s with SITAONAIR’s ONAIR Play W-IFE offering and was heralded as the ‘poster boy’ for the new class of streaming systems making their way to market. Fast forward to January 23rd, 2017 – a mere two days before American Airlines made shockwaves – and PAL quietly announced the return of embedded Audio/Video On-Demand (AVOD) systems on its A330s. The reader should note that its A340s are in the process of being phased out, while ONAIR Play will still be offered on the A330s, as well as on the carrier’s short-haul aircraft.

The bottom line is that when it comes to the death of embedded IFE, we’ve heard it all before. The re-birth of IFC following the demise of Connexion by Boeing in the mid-2000s was supposed to usher in a new era of in-cabin entertainment whereby passengers could stream to their hearts’ content. While the likes of JetBlue Airways, Aeromexico and Qantas have, in recent years, struck deals with Amazon Prime (in the case of the former) and Netflix (in the case of the latter two) that allow passengers to do just this using new high-speed connectivity pipes, all continue to maintain the latest seat-back screens.

The key reason W-IFE will not cannibalise a significant chunk of the classic IFE market in the next ten years is down to the fact that almost every single wide-body is ordered with an embedded system way in advance of actual delivery. Furthermore, major Gulf carriers have indicated that they fully intend to offer seat-back screens well into the future. Emirates, for example, will install seat-back IFE on the 150 Boeing 777X aircraft that will start to enter its fleet in 2020. As long as these luxury brands continue to offer embedded systems, other flag carriers will be compelled to do likewise in order to be seen as on the cutting edge of in-cabin technology.

Another roadblock that W-IFE vendors seeking to smash into the wide-body market need to surmount is the restriction on the streaming of early window content (EWC) to passenger PEDs. Though some vendors are keen to underplay the value of EWC, passengers have come to expect that they will be able to watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters on medium- and long-haul flights. To put this into perspective, Rodrigo Llaguno, customer experience corporate vice-president at Aeromexico recently revealed that the airline had expected a higher take-up of passengers watching Netflix and was surprised when data revealed that people were actually watching more EWC. Regardless of the availability of EWC, there is an extremely long way to go before IFC technology can support streaming of web-based content to multiple seats on multiple aircraft and at a price that is palatable to passengers.

Relying on the bring your own device (BYOD) model has several other pitfalls. One is the assumption that passengers will bring on-board devices that are either fully charged, or contain sufficient charge for them to interact with the IFC/W-IFE systems for a sizeable portion of the flight. With many travellers now using their smartphones throughout their journey to store mobile boarding passes and to help them navigate through airports, as well as for general use, the need to re-charge on board is higher than ever. Unless PED battery life improves dramatically in coming years, in-seat power should almost always be installed alongside W-IFE and IFC. However, in-seat power comes with significant weight and cost penalties and weight and cost are, of course, two key considerations when carriers make the decision to ditch embedded systems in the first place.

Because most seats do not feature a method to keep PEDs upright and at a favourable viewing angle, passengers generally hold smartphones or tablets in their hands while resting their arms on the tray table. When watching a movie or television show for a long period of time, this can quickly result in neck and/or wrist ache. Additionally, the moment food and drink items arrive is the moment this valued arm rest takes on another purpose. Though a number of vendors have developed PED holders designed to overcome these issues, there is still plenty of room for innovation.

The recent electronics ban also highlighted the vulnerability of the W-IFE market to the ongoing fight against terrorism. Though it has now been partially lifted, any future return or extension of the ban (to smaller devices) would undoubtedly be extremely favourable to the future of seat-back systems.

For these reasons, it is hard to imagine seat-back IFE disappearing on long-range aircraft anytime soon. Rather than replacement technologies, W-IFE and IFC should be viewed as complimentary to embedded IFE. Entertainment can be amplified by connectivity, which can be viewed as a gateway to endless media and content options for everyone. Indeed, true personalisation of content and ads cannot be achieved without real-time connectivity off of the aircraft. Thus, it might be said that where there was once IFE, there will also now be IFC and where IFC existed on its own, there are opportunities too for IFE, whether wireless or wired.

Like PAL, Delta is another interesting test case. As well as providing IFC on many of its aircraft, it has also gone fleet-wide with the Gogo Vision-based ‘Delta Studio’ W-IFE system. Whether passengers ultimately prefer to use this, the embedded system or a mixture of the two will offer insight into how the industry will develop.

Valour Consultancy is currently developing two new reports that delve more deeply into these trends. ‘The Future of In-Flight Entertainment – 2017’ quantifies the market for four types of IFE system (embedded, wireless, overhead and portable) and provides forecasts for the growth of each. ‘The Future of In-Flight Entertainment Content – 2017’ looks at how the demand for content is changing, particularly on routes where the flight time is shorter than the length of a typical movie.

HMG Aerospace is a proud partner of Valour Consultancy, enabling us to offer market-leading intelligence in the IFEC and cabin technology sectors. For more information on how to purchase the latest reports, please contact mark@hmgaerospace.com.

In his latest blog, Valour Consultancy’s Craig Foster looks at the market for in-flight connectivity on VIP and business aircraft.

Last month, Valour Consultancy released its latest analysis of the market for in-flight connectivity on VIP and business aircraft. The study draws upon our considerable expertise in analysing the adoption of in-flight connectivity (IFC) in commercial aviation and is the result of a rigorous primary research phase consisting of numerous interviews with key players from across the industry.

The report finds that, globally, there were 19,131 IFC systems on VIP and business aircraft at the end of 2016. L-band was by far and away the most dominant connectivity technology with cumulative connections representing 75% of the total. A large proportion of this is accounted for by Iridium, whose systems support in-flight satellite phone operations on almost 10,000 aircraft. The remainder of L-band connections are accounted for by Inmarsat, which has seen adoption of SwiftBroadband (SBB) pick up rapidly in recent years.

Uptake of Gogo’s Air-to-Ground (ATG) options has been similarly brisk in recent years. By the end 2013, there were 2,047 terminals connected to the Gogo Biz network. This had increased to 4,172 three years later.

ATG and L-band both have room for further growth in coming years, too.

With respect to ATG, there will likely be continued interest in Gogo’s solutions over the course of the forecast period (2016 to 2026), especially now that the company is close to commercial launch of Gogo Biz 4G and plans to have its next-generation ATG network, which will offer peak network speeds of more than 100 Mbps, up and running by 2018.

When you add SmartSky Networks and its 4G network into the mix, as well as the Inmarsat European Aviation Network (EAN), it is apparent that there remains plenty of potential for ATG technology. Though it is yet to be officially confirmed whether the EAN will be used by the business aviation industry, there appears to be consensus that it would work very well on board private aircraft.

While Inmarsat is reportedly seeing a lot of interest from operators looking to upgrade from lower-bandwidth IFC systems to Jet ConneX, the company is also working on increasing the performance of the L-band technology used for SBB. Iridium, meanwhile, recently celebrated the successful launch of the second batch of Iridium NEXT satellites. Upon completion of the constellation in 2018 and the start of commercial service one year later, the so-called Iridium Certus solution will likely find favour among operators of those small- and medium-sized business jets less suited to the fitment of bulky radomes.

Adoption of Ku-band technology on VIP and business aircraft appears to have an equally rosy future – a view presumably shared by new market entrants, Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle, as well as Gogo, which recently announced its first business aviation customer for 2Ku. Right now, there are some 500 Ku-band systems in operation on VIP and business aircraft and the vast majority of these are accounted for by ViaSat and its Yonder system (although it’s no longer referred to as Yonder, to shift the focus towards the ViaSat brand). Panasonic and Global Eagle representatives have not been shy in admitting that they are gunning for ViaSat in this market.

However, ViaSat appears content to focus on ensuring existing clients migrate to its Ka-band technology – a sensible strategy given the ongoing success of its Exede in the Air product in commercial aviation. Now that ViaSat-2 has finally launched after several setbacks, there will soon be a considerable amount of additional Ka-band capacity for business jets flying between North America and Europe. Additionally, the company says that it will have its three planned ViaSat-3 satellites operational around 2020 making ViaSat the only rival provider of global Ka-band capacity to Inmarsat.

By 2020, ViaSat could have some catching up to do if the take up of Jet ConneX is anything to go by. Having debuted in November 2016, there were an estimated 30 aircraft fitted with the solution by the turn of the year. Inmarsat has previously stated that it expects to see 150 Jet ConneX-equipped aircraft by the end of 2017 and has a goal of connecting 3,000 jets by 2020 (although it is apparently now upgrading its forecasts).

Overall, we are forecasting that by the end of 2026, there will be 37,710 IFC systems installed on VIP and business aircraft – almost double the current total. The reader should, of course, note that these numbers do not refer to the number of aircraft with IFC. In fact, it is estimated that today, around 1,000 to 2,000 aircraft with Iridium satellite phones also make use of Inmarsat’s SBB network. Likewise, Gogo has publicly reported 4,172 connections to its Gogo Biz service and acts as the service provider for 5,286 installed Iridium terminals as well as 214 installed SBB terminals (a total of 9,972 connections – all accurate and up to date at the end of 2016). However, the firm delivers services to 7,400 aircraft implying many are flying with more than one system installed.

The following factors have driven interest in IFC on VIP and business aircraft and will continue to do so in future:

  • Owners of business aircraft fitted with connectivity equipment some time ago will be keener to take advantage of more recent advances in satellite and hardware technology.
  • The ‘Uber-isation’ of the private aviation industry is increasingly being talked about and with e-commerce replacing traditional methods of sourcing and booking a business jet, easy comparisons between different operators and aircraft means that customers can see where one aircraft has IFC and another doesn’t. This transparency will further encourage operators to improve their offerings.
  • As well as the increased comparison between business jets and their features because of new e-commerce initiatives, business aviation is having to compete with the rapid adoption of IFC in commercial air transport perhaps making a first class connected seat more attractive than a private jet with no in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Competition is hotting up with the likes of Global Eagle, Panasonic Avionics, BizJetMobile and SmartSky Networks all new to the market or preparing to enter.
  • The launch of several new high throughput satellites (HTS) and the prospect of cheaper capacity and faster services is having an extremely positive effect on the market with service providers having inked several new deals in recent years

The connected aircraft and e-Enablement is beginning to resonate more and more as a way to drive operational efficiencies and help underpin the IFC business case.

Some of the remaining challenges to more widespread adoption of IFC on VIP and business aircraft are as follows.

  • Production of new business jets has stagnated and consequently reduced the possibility of line-fit offerability deals for many IFC providers and limited their opportunities for growth.
  • Fitting an aircraft with a sizeable antenna to enable IFC impacts aerodynamics and increases fuel burn, thereby driving up operating costs. Additionally, many smaller business jets are currently unable to accommodate larger Ku- and Ka-band antennas on their fuselages.
  • Current generation Ku-/Ka-band systems lock operators into the service provider (so the hardware is not provider agnostic) and should there be a desire to switch, a very expensive refit ensues.
  • While commercial airlines tend to fly set routes at specific times of day, business jets are more sporadic. One day they may be flying domestically in the US, the next they may be making their way to China or Russia. This uncertainty means high-bandwidth IFC solutions that offer global coverage – which are currently few in number – are perhaps more compelling.
  • Many in the industry are concerned that as we move towards realising the vision of the fully-connected aircraft, the opportunity for cyberattacks will increase. The main worry seems to be that such systems will allow wrongdoers to control aircraft and manipulate commands issued to the aircraft. It should be noted that flight control systems are purposefully isolated from all other communications networks on-board the aircraft.
  • Selling an IFC service based on deployment events that have not happened is a significant challenge and operators understandably give much more credit to satellite assets in space than on paper. Further, a delay to the launch of any service has the potential to scare prospective customers away or send them into the arms of rivals. Unfortunately, such delays are all too commonplace for many much-anticipated IFC solutions.

Published in May 2017, “The Market for In-Flight Connectivity on VIP and Business Aircraft” provides an unrivalled insight and analysis into the current and future deployment of IFC on these aircraft. The number of IFC systems installed in 2016 is quantified with forecasts out to 2026 and data is segmented by fitment type, aircraft size, frequency band and geographic region with a full qualitative discussion of the key trends at play in support of this. The report also sizes the market for both service revenues and key enabling hardware, in addition to market share estimates for service providers and capacity providers. A chapter profiling key players is presented, too.


Valour Consultancy’s Craig Foster, a specialist in IFEC market intelligence, outlines the background behind their latest report on in-flight connectivity within the business aviation sector. 

Last month, Valour Consultancy released its latest analysis of the market for in-flight connectivity on VIP and business aircraft. The study draws upon our considerable expertise in analysing the adoption of in-flight connectivity (IFC) in commercial aviation and is the result of a rigorous primary research phase consisting of numerous interviews with key players from across the industry.

The report finds that, globally, there were 19,131 IFC systems on VIP and business aircraft at the end of 2016. L-band was by far and away the most dominant connectivity technology with cumulative connections representing 75% of the total. A large proportion of this is accounted for by Iridium, whose systems support in-flight satellite phone operations on almost 10,000 aircraft. The remainder of L-band connections are accounted for by Inmarsat, which has seen adoption of SwiftBroadband (SBB) pick up rapidly in recent years.

Uptake of Gogo’s Air-to-Ground (ATG) options has been similarly brisk in recent years. By the end 2013, there were 2,047 terminals connected to the Gogo Biz network. This had increased to 4,172 three years later.

ATG and L-band both have room for further growth in coming years, too.

With respect to ATG, there will likely be continued interest in Gogo’s solutions over the course of the forecast period (2016 to 2026), especially now that the company is close to commercial launch of Gogo Biz 4G and plans to have its next-generation ATG network, which will offer peak network speeds of more than 100 Mbps, up and running by 2018.

When you add SmartSky Networks and its 4G network into the mix, as well as the Inmarsat European Aviation Network (EAN), it is apparent that there remains plenty of potential for ATG technology. Though it is yet to be officially confirmed whether the EAN will be used by the business aviation industry, there appears to be consensus that it would work very well on board private aircraft.

While Inmarsat is reportedly seeing a lot of interest from operators looking to upgrade from lower-bandwidth IFC systems to Jet ConneX, the company is also working on increasing the performance of the L-band technology used for SBB. Iridium, meanwhile, is currently prepping for the launch of the second batch of Iridium NEXT satellites, which are due for lift off on the 25th June. Upon completion of the constellation in 2018 and the start of commercial service one year later, the so-called Iridium Certus solution will likely find favour among operators of those small- and medium-sized business jets less suited to the fitment of bulky radomes.

Adoption of Ku-band technology on VIP and business aircraft appears to have an equally rosy future – a view presumably shared by new market entrants, Panasonic Avionics and Global Eagle, as well as Gogo, which recently announced its first business aviation customer for 2Ku. Right now, there are some 500 Ku-band systems in operation on VIP and business aircraft and the vast majority of these are accounted for by ViaSat and its Yonder system (although it’s no longer referred to as Yonder, to shift the focus towards the ViaSat brand). Panasonic and Global Eagle representatives have not been shy in admitting that they are gunning for ViaSat in this market.

However, ViaSat appears content to focus on ensuring existing clients migrate to its Ka-band technology – a sensible strategy given the ongoing success of its Exede in the Air product in commercial aviation. Now that ViaSat-2 has finally launched after several setbacks, there will soon be a considerable amount of additional Ka-band capacity for business jets flying between North America and Europe. Additionally, the company says that it will have its three planned ViaSat-3 satellites operational around 2020 making ViaSat the only rival provider of global Ka-band capacity to Inmarsat.

By 2020, ViaSat could have some catching up to do if the take up of Jet ConneX is anything to go by. Having debuted in November 2016, there were an estimated 30 aircraft fitted with the solution by the turn of the year. Inmarsat has previously stated that it expects to see 150 Jet ConneX-equipped aircraft by the end of 2017 and has a goal of connecting 3,000 jets by 2020 (although it is apparently now upgrading its forecasts).

Overall, we are forecasting that by the end of 2026, there will be 37,710 IFC systems installed on VIP and business aircraft – almost double the current total. The reader should, of course, note that these numbers do not refer to the number of aircraft with IFC. In fact, it is estimated that today, around 1,000 to 2,000 aircraft with Iridium satellite phones also make use of Inmarsat’s SBB network. Likewise, Gogo has publicly reported 4,172 connections to its Gogo Biz service and acts as the service provider for 5,286 installed Iridium terminals as well as 214 installed SBB terminals (a total of 9,972 connections – all accurate and up to date at the end of 2016). However, the firm delivers services to 7,400 aircraft implying many are flying with more than one system installed.

The following factors have driven interest in IFC on VIP and business aircraft and will continue to do so in future:

  • Owners of business aircraft fitted with connectivity equipment some time ago will be keener to take advantage of more recent advances in satellite and hardware technology.
  • The ‘Uber-isation’ of the private aviation industry is increasingly being talked about and with e-commerce replacing traditional methods of sourcing and booking a business jet, easy comparisons between different operators and aircraft means that customers can see where one aircraft has IFC and another doesn’t. This transparency will further encourage operators to improve their offerings.
  • As well as the increased comparison between business jets and their features because of new e-commerce initiatives, business aviation is having to compete with the rapid adoption of IFC in commercial air transport perhaps making a first class connected seat more attractive than a private jet with no in-flight Wi-Fi.
  • Competition is hotting up with the likes of Global Eagle, Panasonic Avionics, BizJetMobile and SmartSky Networks all new to the market or preparing to enter.
  • The launch of several new high throughput satellites (HTS) and the prospect of cheaper capacity and faster services is having an extremely positive effect on the market with service providers having inked several new deals in recent years.
  • The connected aircraft and e-Enablement is beginning to resonate more and more as a way to drive operational efficiencies and help underpin the IFC business case.

Some of the remaining challenges to more widespread adoption of IFC on VIP and business aircraft are as follows:

  • Production of new business jets has stagnated and consequently reduced the possibility of line-fit offerability deals for many IFC providers and limited their opportunities for growth.
  • Fitting an aircraft with a sizeable antenna to enable IFC impacts aerodynamics and increases fuel burn, thereby driving up operating costs. Additionally, many smaller business jets are currently unable to accommodate larger Ku- and Ka-band antennas on their fuselages.
  • Current generation Ku-/Ka-band systems lock operators into the service provider (so the hardware is not provider agnostic) and should there be a desire to switch, a very expensive refit ensues.
  • While commercial airlines tend to fly set routes at specific times of day, business jets are more sporadic. One day they may be flying domestically in the US, the next they may be making their way to China or Russia. This uncertainty means high-bandwidth IFC solutions that offer global coverage – which are currently few in number – are perhaps more compelling.
  • Many in the industry are concerned that as we move towards realising the vision of the fully-connected aircraft, the opportunity for cyberattacks will increase. The main worry seems to be that such systems will allow wrongdoers to control aircraft and manipulate commands issued to the aircraft. It should be noted that flight control systems are purposefully isolated from all other communications networks on-board the aircraft.
  • Selling an IFC service based on deployment events that have not happened is a significant challenge and operators understandably give much more credit to satellite assets in space than on paper. Further, a delay to the launch of any service has the potential to scare prospective customers away or send them into the arms of rivals. Unfortunately, such delays are all too commonplace for many much-anticipated IFC solutions.

Published in May 2017, “The Market for In-Flight Connectivity on VIP and Business Aircraft” provides an unrivalled insight and analysis into the current and future deployment of IFC on these aircraft. The number of IFC systems installed in 2016 is quantified with forecasts out to 2026 and data is segmented by fitment type, aircraft size, frequency band and geographic region with a full qualitative discussion of the key trends at play in support of this. The report also sizes the market for both service revenues and key enabling hardware, in addition to market share estimates for service providers and capacity providers. A chapter profiling key players is presented, too.

HMG Aerospace is a proud partner of Valour Consultancy, enabling us to offer market-leading intelligence in the IFEC and cabin technology sectors. For more information on how to purchase the latest reports, please contact mark@hmgaerospace.com.

Aircraft Interiors Middle East (AIME) 2018 will take place on 23–24 January 2018, one day later than originally scheduled.

The event, taking place at the Dubai World Trade Centre, is co-located with MRO Middle East.

The Inflight Middle East Pavilion, Workshop and Awards, held in association with AIME, will also follow the new schedule. For further information, please visit the Inflight Middle East event website.