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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Singapore Airlines Sees In-Flight Connectivity as a Long-Term Investment

Mark Holmes

Photo courtesy Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines is determined to bring its passengers the very best in-flight connectivity experience and be at the cutting edge of providing these services. The airline, with its young fleet and large investments is the connectivity systems, is looking to build upon its reputation of cutting edge in-flight entertainment systems with the addition of high-speed connectivity systems.

In recent months, the airline has announced a series of in-flight connectivity system installations and upgrades to its fleet. In September, the airline signed a $50 million deal with Inmarsat to offer passengers Wi-Fi and GSM connectivity on its long-haul fleets, using OnAir’s connectivity services operating over Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband. Additionally, the airline signed a $400 million deal with Panasonic Avionics to supply its connectivity systems on 20 Airbus A350s due for delivery from 2014, as well as for 15 more Airbus A330-300 and eight more Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, deliveries of which are due to begin next year. Additionally, Singapore Airlines will be the launch customer for Panasonic Avionics’ eX3 system for the A350s, as well as the first to deliver eX3 features on the B777-300ERs.

“As a premium full service airline, we try to offer the best possible in-flight package to suit the needs and lifestyles of our customers. In-flight connectivity is a long term investment for us. We officially launched the service in early September on 14 aircraft, including all our A340-500 aircraft. This service will progressively be made available on more of our A380s and B777-300ERs. Inmarsat has been a leader in the communications business for many years and it has proven to be a reliable and progressive partner. This service with OnAir and Inmarsat brings Internet and mobile data services to our passengers, even when flying at 35,000 ft," Chew Tai Lu, vice president of Product Innovation at Singapore Airlines told In-Flight Connectivity Insider.

Lu says the airline is addressing the technical challenges of the new systems, including the certification of the onboard equipment and the connectivity service authorization from various countries. Following the launch of the OnAir partnership, Lu said the airline is working with the service provider to make the service even more user-friendly and to extend the usage to operational areas such as cabin crew service.

The airline is operating in a tough environment. In the third quarter ending Sept. 30, it generated a profit of $73.61 million, significantly lower than the net profits of $158.49 million reported in the year-ago period. With the global airline marketplace more competitive than ever, in-flight connectivity could become a key differentiator for passengers. “Though in-flight connectivity is only one component of the total customer experience, we are very mindful of the ever changing lifestyle needs of our customers and the impact new technology has on work and leisure activities of customers. Work is already underway to bring the next generation of in-flight entertainment offerings to our customers. It is inevitable that with the growing demand for customers to be connected and due to technological advances (e.g. SmartPhones etc), more and more airlines will offer such services to meet customers' expectations,” he said.

Lu said the company “was looking forward” to the implementation of Inmarsat’s Global Xpress product, although would not be drawn on whether the airline would ultimately look to use a solution based more on Ka-band than other alternatives. Being an Inmarsat partner, it seems more than likely that the airline could be one of those looking to Ka-band in the future. “Our evaluations are based on the customer benefits to be derived from the services offered/available under the different bandwidths, the global coverage, as well as their technological roadmaps. In addition, operational impact and costs are factored into evaluations,” Lu said.

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