Exec from Japan’s Largest Airline Dishes on In-Flight Connectivity

By Juliet Van Wagenen | July 5, 2016
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[Avionics Today 07-05-2016] Commercial operators in the Asia Pacific are facing new challenges as they look to equip with In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) to satiate new passenger demands, including the world’s highest passenger growth rate, alongside tough regulations and lacking connectivity options. In fact, according to the fifth Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) Market Forecast, in the next 10 years, the amount of commercial aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi, mobile service or both is expected to grow more than threefold, from 4,000 up to 14,000, with most of this growth coming from carriers based in Asia.

All Nippon Airways Boeing 777
All Nippon Airways Boeing 777s. Photo: Wikimedia

To gauge how the region’s operators are handling passenger demand for IFC, Avionics Magazine sat down with Junichiro Kaya, head of product services and strategy for Japan’s largest airline, All Nippon Airways (ANA), to learn more about Japan’s IFC landscape and the airline’s coming connectivity strategy.

Avionics: Who is your service provider for your in-flight connectivity offering?

Kaya: ANA uses SITA On Air for our international fleets, which include Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 767-300ER aircraft. For our international Boeing 787’s and our domestic fleet, we are equipped with connectivity through Panasonic Avionics.

Avionics: When do you plan to roll out connectivity across your entire fleet?

Kaya: We are looking to equip our entire fleet by around 2017 for domestic aircraft and 2019 for international aircraft.

Avionics: What can you tell us about your network? As Air-to-Ground (ATG) connectivity is not yet available in Japan, do you feel this is an option that could change how you deliver Internet in-flight?

Kaya: In Japan, air-to-ground connectivity is not available yet, so we are using satellite for connectivity through our providers. Especially for the domestic fleet, we do wish that air-to-ground capabilities were available to us. Japan is an island, so we cannot pull air-to-ground capabilities from surrounding countries at all.

We do feel that ATG would be a great solution for our domestic fleet, because the domestic flights are pretty short and usually run only about one to one-and-a-half hours. For satellite communication, we have to send it out to the satellite, but air-to-ground would be a good option for us if it was available.

For our international fleet, satellite communications are obviously necessary.

Avionics: Are you looking to use connectivity for operational purposes in the future?

Kaya: We currently have access to the latest weather in the cockpit, which is very efficient. ANA is looking to expand these capabilities further and is looking into Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) as well as trialing connectivity for operational use, but we have not yet incorporated connectivity for operational support. We would of course like to make use of this, but on domestic fleets it is tough to justify because the flight time is so short.

On international fleets, it would be an extremely powerful tool because, right now, we don’t have any operational support during those flights. For example, we are limited with what we can provide via shopping on international flights because our airtime transactions are limited as well. If we have the capability to provide airtime transactions, we believe we could sell up to $2,000 per flight.

Also, now every passenger carries a tablet or other personal device. If we had further Wi-Fi capabilities in flight, we would like to capitalize on that information and provide a personalized experience to the passenger. We would also like to send that passenger information on to the connecting flight, that would be very beneficial for us to deliver.

We are taking it step by step. We aren’t yet certain about Ku High-Throughput System (HTS) satellites or Ka-band connectivity for the cockpit, but we are very interested in looking at these for operational use.

Avionics: Are you seeing some Return on Investment (ROI) onboard your already equipped fleet?

Kaya: It is very tough to see return on investment at this point, but we are looking at several pricing options and models going forward. Connectivity is popular on the airplane, but the usage rate is not so high. Going forward, we will have to think about how to manage the airtime fee. Especially in Japan, there are so many free Wi-Fi hotspots, and your cell phone airtime fee is the same rate until you reach a certain gigabyte usage. A passenger expects that they can always be connected.

Technology is always improving. Passenger expectation is getting bigger, and we would like to support the same condition in flight as well as on the ground.

Avionics: Are you still restricted from activating the Wi-Fi service over Chinese territories and territorial waters? How does this impact your offering or revenue?

Kaya: Japan is located next to China and we have many routes between Japan and China as well as many routes that go over China. That’s why we do need Chinese permission to deliver in-flight Wi-Fi in Chinese airspace.

OnAir has gotten certification from China so that we can provide our services. With Panasonic Avionics, however, we are still waiting for approval from China to provide these services. On that, we believe that China will provide approval soon so we can deliver in-flight Wi-Fi on our international Boeing 787s and our domestic fleet connected through Panasonic’s system.

Avionics: What major challenges still remain when it comes to rolling out IFC across a commercial fleet?

Kaya: Reliability is our first priority. [The] passenger doesn’t know satellite or ATG, but they do notice when the connection suddenly stops or slows down because we don’t have enough bandwidth for the entire plane to connect at the same time. We hope in the future we will have access to more bandwidth so that we can provide free services.

We would like to provide free of charge services but, if we did, passenger demand would increase and now, bandwidth is limited, we know that. If we provide free services, we may come up against a limitation. But, if there is the charge, everyone won’t use it so we can maintain a higher quality of service. We also know that to deliver that amount of bandwidth, new technology would be required.

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