WLCA 2015: Day One Highlights Part II – IFE & Connectivity

Promoting the three pillars demanded by passenger of their in-flight Wi-Fi – reliability, accessibility seamless integration – Hans van de Velde, MD of TUI Arkefly, kicked off the opening session of the afternoon’s AirExperience stream and IFE and Connectivity discussion.

Van de Velde described the response to the airline’s in-flight entertainment (IFE) system housed on TUI Cloud, a platform enabled by MI Airline’s AirFi box.
Early statistics show that two million TUI Cloud pages were viewed in the first two months of the solution's operations. In the past two months, statistics have also shown that 39% of passengers accessing the system with their own devices played games, whilst 38% viewed pages with holiday information.
Van de Velde also confirmed that the next steps of TUI Cloud’s implementation include the addition of a moving map with points of interest, frequent flyer app integration and messaging services. He also said that the airline has trialled allowing passengers to order food and drink from their personal devices via the TUI Cloud. The order pops up on the iPads of cabin crew and they can prepare and deliver the order.
Having had the floor to himself, Van de Velde was joined on stage by other industry leaders in an extended panel discussion. Led by Shashank Nigram, CEO of SimpliFlying, Juhan Jarvinen, CEO of Finnair; Edouard Piquet, SVP Passenger Experience, AeroMexico; Bill Sullivan, ViaSat; Frederick St-Armour of GEE; and Panasonic Avionics’ Todd Hill, engaged in a lively discussion on meeting bandwidth demands in the air.
Picking up on some of the points raised by van de Velde’s previous presentation, St-Armour said that everyone around the table and in the room, was trying to recreate in the sky, the experience found on the ground. “We are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Nothing is new,” he said, adding that GEE was a telecoms provider through the medium of entertainment.
Responding to the case study of JetBlue, the launch customer for ViaSat which offers live TV and Wi-Fi for free (sponsored by Amazon Prime), FinnAir’s Jarvinen believes that “Passengers are ready to pay for proper internet access.”
In March, the airline announced a EUR30 million investment program to bring Wi-Fi connectivity to the majority of Finnair's wide-body and narrow-body fleet.
Finnair is set to introduce its first on-board Wi-Fi service this autumn, with the arrival of the first Finnair A350 XWB aircraft. In 2016, the company will start Wi-Fi installations in Finnair's Airbus A330 long-haul aircraft as well as its European short-haul Airbus fleet. Installations are expected to be completed by 2018.
For AeroMexico, the position was defensive. “We had to offer IFEC,” Piquet admitted, “because our competitors do it.”
With current offerings presented, Nigram led the discussion into the future of IFEC offerings and the free versus fee model. GEE is working with AirFrance and Orange to provide an IFEC system on long-haul flights. It is also working with SouthWest Airlines and DISH to offer live TV. For St-Armour, sponsored IFEC offerings make perfect business sense, and one which is being considered by many within the room, but he provided a caveat. “We have created a Rubix Cube. You have to understand the different facets of the Rubix Cube – from passengers to operational teams.” Explaining there are many limitations airlines face in IFEC, not just technological but regulatory and other restrictions, he added that the choice of partnership was key. “The airline’s personality can affect the potential [benefits of Wi-Fi]", but successful partnerships "offer companies great upsell and dynamic advertising potential."

The session concluded with Honeywell's Edward Haile, outling the trends in Wi-Fi. For Honeywell, these include improved data flow, low cost storage, more bandwidth, low cost transmission and faster, comprehensive analytics. The debate, he said, "should not be if, but when Wi-Fi will be offered."Alex Preston, editor, Inflight/ inflight-online.comLondon, UK

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