Global Eagle Entertainment,which has announced that its WiFi service is now available gate-to-gate to passengers on Southwest Airlines, says it could see a significant spike in revenues, possibly over 10 percent annually.
John Guidon, Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder of Global Eagle Entertainment told Avionics magazine, “I could easily see it helping us increase revenues but let's wait and see. What I have learned in this business is that theoretical numbers are almost worthless. You dream something up and you find out you are either ahead of your time, or people take awhile to get used to the idea. Theoretical numbers are not much use here.”
Photo, courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
With a possible double-digit percentage spike in revenues annually as a result of being able to go gate-to-gate, it is a highly significant development. Guidon says early signs on the first day were good. He adds, “We flipped the switch yesterday, and we did see quite a number of people using the gate-to-gate connectivity service. Our real-time monitoring enables us to count how many people switched on the system. It was pretty significant. We are certainly expecting a pretty good lift in numbers.”
Southwest Airlines uses Global Eagle's satellite-based connectivity platform, which has been optimized from the beginning to work in all phases of flight, including on the ground. The inflight WiFi service provided to Southwest by Global Eagle harnesses the power of Ku-band satellite connectivity, which was designed for continuous operation at all phases of flight. Now available on more than 435 WiFi-equipped Southwest aircraft, the design of the system supported an immediate roll-out, making it available for use by more than 100 million passengers each year.
One of the keys to this is it makes the service more compelling to those taking short flights.
“The first business significance is to the operating model. Flights are effectively longer. From our perspective, we have more opportunity to sell content and more ability to bring entertainment content to the traveller. But, as well there is more time for the traveller to send messages,” says Guidon. “It is a boost for us as it means effectively longer flights, and we always have better numbers on longer flights. Primarily, it is a pretty big boon for the traveller. There can be this feeling that on a short flight, the actual time window above 10,000 feet is just too short to make the service worth having. But, now the sentiment should be that the service is worth having at all times.”
With many airlines now offering in-flight connectivity services, the market has really stepped up in pace in recent times. However, Guidon admits it has not necessarily been as straightforward to bring these services to market as originally thought.
He adds, “It takes much longer than you might plan for to bring products to market and to make them 100 percent reliable and to bring the quality of service you need. When we started out on this ten years ago, it seemed a relatively simple endeavor. But, getting everything certified and reliable the way the customer needs it was a big hill to climb. We now have almost 1,000 years of flight terminal experience. We know what it takes to make the systems reliable. Also, one of the keys is real-time monitoring to make sure our service performs the way it should. I would say this is the biggest thing we have done that has made a difference to our service.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recent decision that airlines can safely expand passenger use of Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight was “not a surprise” according to Guidon. He says, “We had been anticipating for years that this would happen. Rather than push, we were hopeful that the FAA would make this determination at the appropriate time and they did.”