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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Japan Airlines Brings JAL Sky Wi-Fi to Passengers

Mark Holmes

Asian airlines are ramping up their in-flight connectivity efforts with the likes of Thai Airways, Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines making significant announcements to equip their fleets with the latest systems.
Singapore Airlines recently announced a new deal with Inmarsat, and Thai Airways is also launching new in-flight connectivity services this year.

Japan Airlines (JAL) is another such airline that is looking to have an impact in this market. The company announced a deal with Panasonic Avionics in September 2011 to start bringing these services to passengers, using the manufacturer’s broadband Ku connectivity solution, eXConnect. The company launched the service JAL SKY Wi-Fi in July. JAL SKY Wi-Fi first became available on flights between Tokyo (Narita) and New York (John F. Kennedy) on alternate days in mid-July this year, and then daily from early August. JAL now plans to deliver the service on flights to and from Chicago, Los Angeles and Jakarta by the end of October, and London, Paris and Frankfurt by next spring.

JAL is equipping its Boeing 777s with the service, and it expects to expand services to the rest of its fleet gradually. The airline has around 160 aircraft and leases another 50 aircraft giving it a total fleet of around 215.

“On-board Internet is gradually becoming a common in-flight amenity, with several airlines in the United States and Europe already providing this service. As the number of users of portable devices with Internet capability such as laptops, Smartphones and tablet PCs increase sharply in recent years, it is an obvious value-add for passengers to be able to use their devices on board to access the internet. It is thus, indeed a competitive differentiator. The ROI is the increase in customer satisfaction in JAL,” Takahiko Ebata, assistant manager, product and service strategy, development for Japan Airlines told In-Flight Connectivity Insider.

“Meeting the needs of our customers is extremely important to JAL. If this is the service that most of our passengers need and want, we want to be able to provide it for them.”

Like most airlines, JAL had to consider what solution to use, and whether to wait for a Ka-band solution to hit the market. By going with Panasonic Avionics, the airline has great faith in the current technology available. “We want to differentiate ourselves from our competitors and to provide our customers with high speed Internet connection onboard as soon as possible. This is why we have chosen to work with Panasonic Avionics,” says Ebata. “We did also consider the Ka-band solution, but it isn’t a service that can be started immediately. We want to start offering this service as soon as possible, and so we chose the Ku-band option.”

The launch of such services is not without technical issues. Offering an efficient solution available to all passengers was no easy task.

“To be able to provide this service, there is a need to install an antenna and radome on the aircraft, and this was initially a challenge. As there is a limit to the bandwidth of each aircraft, we wanted to ensure the speed of the connection is not affected by the number of people using the service,” says Ebata.

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