Air China launches L-band inflight connectivity – what next for the world’s second-largest market?
The world’s second-largest domestic airline market, China, entered the inflight connectivity space on 3 Jul 2013 with an Air China A330 offering inflight
connectivity from Beijing to Chengdu. The service, the first non-trial flight,
is understood by the APEX Editor’s Blog to be Inmarsat’s L-band.
The service was limited according to local reports, as only e-mail and some
web services via an Air China app were available. Four of Air China’s
approximately 40 A330s reportedly have the L-band link while the rest are due to
receive the service within a year.
The objective for the wireless IFE is to enhance service on trunk routes like Beijing-Shanghai that are operated by aircraft without embedded IFE but compete with high-speed trains that offer mobile connectivity.
Inflight connectivity would fit well into that objective, although Air China
is not explicitly saying why it is offering the service. But a report from the
official China Daily – conveniently published two days before Air
China’s announcement – cited a survey finding that 83% of Chinese passengers
would pay for inflight connectivity, although price points were not
The article said connectivity would improve productivity and make trips “more
colorful for lonely travelers”. Connectivity was also “a weapon for airlines to
compete with each other” – a sentiment very much true in other parts of the
world where connectivity has become a competitive necessity.
So will there be a rush to equip aircraft in China? Air China chief economist
Xu Jianqing told attendees of last year’s China IFEC conference in Beijing
(being held in Shanghai on 9-10 July 2013) that IFEC was the third-largest
investment area for Chinese airlines, although little then was directed at
It is perhaps unsurprising Air China was the first to offer regularly-scheduled connected flights. Air China is one of a few state-owned carriers but is the flagship and enjoys a cozy relationship as evidenced by Mr Xu’s warm remarks of China’s regulators: “They are developing regulations to support regulation of inflight Wi-Fi. As the airline I am very happy to see the attitude of the government, which is very supportive for us. I think it is a very farseeing attitude.”
Many attendees expected Air China to wade through the regulatory pool before
other carriers made progress. As Hainan Airlines GM of maintenance and chief
engineer Liu Weibin succinctly put it: “We are learning from Air China.”
Hainan has a trial for ground-to-air services, which at last year’s conference seemed the way forward. The conference was told air-to-ground trials were due to commence shortly around Sichuan province and that likely China’s eastern seaboard would have an air-to-ground network.
It is unclear where those plans are and if airlines like Hainan could proceed
with an air-to-ground solution instead of following Air China into L-band. Those
familiar with Air China see L-band’s selection as a vote against Ku but say a
later upgrade to Ka is likely.
Air China’s selection of Inmarsat will likely be well-received by foreign
suppliers, who anonymously confided last year they were growing frustrated as no
outcomes followed marketing spend. Worse, one local start-up used gogo’s
marketing images. Foreign suppliers also worried about a lack of pragmatism,
scoffing at one start-up predicting 15 MB upload and 15 MB download speeds
inflight. They feared Chinese carriers would believe the figures and select
local suppliers who could not deliver.
Before bandwidth is increased, consumers may want to access more
than e-mail and sanctioned activities on Air China’s app. The implication
for IFEC of China’s Internet monitoring was evident on a conference slide
showing how inflight connectivity would work in China. One step was labeled
How new technologies are improving the onboard passenger experience
17 June 2013 | The acceleration of wifi installations onboard aircraft
around the world, combined with the large number of passengers carrying one or
more digital devices, is creating a momentum that sees many of today’s inflight
innovations focusing on digital developments.
In this three-part series on how new technologies are improving the onboard
passenger experience, we will take a look at some of the major initiaves and
innovations that are the result of this convergence. This first article will
focus on the implications for seat design, the provision of real-time
information to passengers, and opportunities to improve onboard customer
service. The second article will highlight the latest in inflight entertainment
(both fixed and wireless), followed by onboard ancillary revenue generation and
personalization in the last part.
Power ports and storage
The first impact of today’s tech-toting
passengers is on cabin ‘hardware’. Airlines around the world are responding to
the large number of passengers carrying smartphones, notebooks, tablets and
e-readers by equipping seats with power and USB ports. A number of airlines and
interior suppliers are also looking how to integrate passengers’ own devices
with the design of the seat.
Besides creating storage space for personal electronic devices for the more
spacious seating arrangements in Business Class, several seat manufacturers are
also beginning to incorporate smartly designed spaces in Economy seats where
passengers can store their mobile device.
For example, passengers travelling in Economy on Air France’s A380 and select
B777-300s can store their cell phone into a small belonging stowage, which is
located just below the in-seat USB port to allow for easy recharging of the
device. Japan Airlines’ new Economy seats (manufactured by ZIM Flugsitz), which
made their debut on the airline’s B777-300s in January 2013, have been designed
with a a conveniently placed smartphone holder which is also located near the
Meanwhile, startup companies such as SmartTray and SkyCast have come up with
simple yet smart tray table designs that feature a built-in groove, or two
clips, for holding tablets, e-readers and other portable electronic devices
upright. For example, Canadian budget airline WestJet rents out Android tablets
that clip onto the back of the seat tray in a design called TrayVu.
Passengers on Delta’s ‘Beta Plane’ can submit their ideas via Wi-Fi
8 June 2013 |
We have reported several times before how airlines and airports
are teaming up with the general public in order to generate ideas for new
products and services.
As this trend matures, airlines such as KLM, SAS and Finnair have gone beyong
incidental crowdsourcing campaigns by launching broad co-creation programs to
improve the passenger experience.
KLM ‘Bright Ideas’, for example, asks Facebook fans to share and discuss their ideas to improve KLM’s products and services. Scandinavian Airlines’ ‘My SAS Idea’ is an online community where anyone can share their ideas and others can join in to further improve on each idea.
Finnair’s Quality Hunters – now in its third year – invites
a select group of enthusiasts to come up with ideas which are then shared online
with the larger community.
Delta ‘Ideas In Flight’
In 2011, Delta teamed with “scientists and
thinkers” conference TED – whose slogan is “ideas worth spreading” –
to generate innovative crowd-sourced ideas to improve the travel experience.
Called ‘Ideas in Flight’, the program uses curated
TEDTalks as thought-starters to inspire participants across technology,
entertainment, design, etcetera. Ideas could be submitted through a dedicated tab on the
Delta Facebook page.
In February of this year, Delta launched the second edition of Ideas In
Flight. Similar to the 2011 edition, any Delta Facebook fan could contribute via
Delta’s Facebook page
and a voting system allows Delta and users to see what ideas are popular, and
which ones will be considered to be implemented on the flight.
Airlines embrace their inner tech-geek
5 May 2013 |
One of the hardest marketing messages to convey is that you are
current, and understand the market. ‘Silicon Valley favourite’ Virgin America is
one of the best examples of this.
Easy to recognize thanks to its iconic cabin lighting and hip and
forward-looking approach to airline travel, Virgin America has firmly
established itself as a favoured choice among the urban, tech savvy flying
demographic. In fact, one of the airline’s aircraft is dubbed #nerdbird to celebrate
the large number of Wi-Fi users travelling on the San Francisco-Boston route,
thanks to their fleet-wide onboard wi-fi and USB and power outlets at every
Recently more and more airlines are embracing their inner-geek to stay ahead
of the trend-curve and cleverly selling themself as geek-chic.
#newAmerican x SXSW
American Airlines has pushed hard to
shake off its old image, trying to prove that its new brand image is more
than skin-deep. The airline organized a hack-a-thon at the annual SXSW event in Austin
last March, allowing more than 60 developers to work with American’s travel API
for the first time to see what they could come up with to further develop the
users experience with the airline.
At the end of the event a total of 15 apps were created, based on over a
total of 1800 man hours. The winning App entry was ‘AirPing’, which was a multi
use tool for both airline and customer, providing live updates to flight changes
and delays with estimate travel time to the airport.
The event also saw American launch a ‘Napkin Pitch Contest’,
where travelers could pitch a business idea to the airline to make the world a
better place, all on a simple airline napkin. Passengers could either complete a
form online or drop their napkin into boxes located at the #newAmerican lounge at
the Austin Convention Center and the Startup America Lounge at the Austin
The latest venture for the carrier is to launch an investment fund for
start up companies. The project is known internally as Blue Ocean, and the fund
could invest money in entrepreneurs, startups and incubators, but it could also
use its resources to fly entrepreneurs to investor meetings, or help them with
awarding points, or in other non-monetary in-kind ways.
Delta x TED
Delta also turned more Star Trek than airline in February, showcasing its renewed focus on sleep at the annual TED conference in an innovative way. The airline hosted a talk from renowned Oxford neuroscientist and sleep expert Dr. Russell Foster addressing jet lag and how the eye tells time and demonstrate his research in action with a so-called ‘Photon Shower’ – a small light chamber that conference attendees could enter for a short period of time to help reset their body clocks through a personalized light treatment.
Delta has also teamed with TED to generate innovative crowd-sourced ideas to improve the travel experience, called ‘Ideas in Flight’. The program uses curated TEDTalks in social media as thought-starters to inspire their community, across technology, entertainment, design, etcetera. Ideas can be submitted through a dedicated tab on the Delta Facebook page, but passengers can also use the in-flight Wi-Fi for free to go to a dedicated ‘Ideas In Flight’ website which can only be accessed while onboard Delta transcontinental flights.
Alaska Airlines ‘Flight Quest’
Alaska Airlines have recently joined forces with General Electric to offer a USD100,000 prize to a winning Singapore team who have created a new algorythm for predicting airline arrival times and help reduce passenger delays. The second phase of the ‘Flight Quest’ initiative is to have statisticians suggest ways that airlines could use their data to actually adapt to changing circumstances during a flight.
British Airways ‘40,000ft Hackathon’
Last but not least, British Airways have now started championing technology advancements, and announced last month they were to hold a ‘Hackathon’ aboard one of their aircraft, travelling from future tech-home San Francisco to London. the airline invited 100 top innovators to an 11-hour self dubbed ‘UnGrounded’ hackathon. A number of high-profile founders, CEOs, and venture capitalists will all participate, with the aim of collaborating to create some solutions to global problems
The airline also joined up with RocketSpace recently, a startup accelerator based in San Francisco, to gain access to startups. The team will be asked to present their findings at the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit workshop on arrival in London.
“Great innovation happens when you bring people together face to face, not when you have people sitting alone in rooms” explained EVP of British Airways Simon Talling-Smith.