[Avionics Magazine 12-07-2016] Alitalia, Italy’s largest airline, is getting ready for a busy 12 months as it looks to connect a portion of its fleet by the end of next year. The airline, which operates more than 120 aircraft, aims to be one of the leaders when providing In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) services. Aubrey Tiedt, chief customer officer at Alitalia, told Avionics Magazine that the airline is currently installing connectivity on all of its long-haul aircraft.
Aubrey Tiedt, chief customer officer at Alitalia. Photo: Alitalia.
“All of 14 Airbus A330 are fully connected to offer Wi-Fi, GSM service and four live TV channels. We have partnered with Panasonic to offer a state-of-the-art service to our customers. In the near future, connectivity will become a base-line feature and Alitalia will be, we believe, in the front row in Europe to offer this service.”
In 2015 Alitalia carried 22.9 million passengers. The company’s 2016 summer schedule offered 4,400 weekly flights and 97 destinations, of which 27 are in Italy and 75 in the rest of the world. Interestingly, Etihad Airways is a key shareholder in Alitalia; the UAE-based airline struck a deal in 2014 worth close to $2.5 billion to acquire a 49 percent stake in the Italian airline, which cemented Etihad’s position as a major global airline far beyond just the Middle East. The plan is for Alitalia to have it its long haul fleet completely connected by 2017.
“The development of connectivity on board our medium-haul fleet of aircraft is being studied and we are evaluating different business models and possible partnerships for the specific flights’ length. Passengers expect to stay fully connected through their journey and we want to meet their needs,” Tiedt says.
Like all airlines, Alitalia is trying to figure the right business model and how it will monetize its investment in connecting its fleet. “Alitalia has decided to do this technological investment not only to generate further ancillary revenues, but also to offer more choice for customers who will use this service at a fair price, leveled at industry average,” she says. “The business model and the selection of the right partners are of great importance in the success of this operation and as technology progresses rapidly and it’s very important to be at the cutting edge.”
So, will Alitalia look to charge its passengers for internet access? Tiedt suggests this is probably not the way the airline is going to go. “Passengers will soon expect that connectivity on board is offered free of charge, just as it is in airports and in hotels. Airlines will have to study ways to balance this cost through partnerships while hardware providers examine solutions that will allow bandwidth to be available at more attractive costs,” she says.
A passenger uses Wi-Fi in an Alitalia cabin. Photo: Alitalia.
Tiedt says Alitalia “absolutely” sees offering these services as a competitive advantage. “Connectivity has become a requisite and a differentiator. Most U.S. airlines have offered this service for more than five years now; it’s time for European airlines to be aligned by making the flight become a ‘connected experience’ worldwide,” she adds.
With the market continuing to develop at quite a pace, airlines such as Alitalia are moving fast to equip their fleets. They aim to get a boost both in terms of passenger experience as well as operations. “Through connectivity we will have prompt action and feedback in operations, with a high impact on major aspects such as flight plans, fuel efficiency and maintenance which should improve overall safety and punctuality,” says Tiedt.
Tiedt believes the bar is being raised for all airlines as IFC services start to become the norm. “New technologies and more flexible business models are approaching the market. Air-to-ground connectivity, already available over the United States, will soon become available in Europe, providing more bandwidth at a more attractive cost,” she says. “In the near future, being connected in the air will become a must-have, just as people now expect to be on the ground, at home or simply abroad. Providers and airlines have to work together to reach the high standards of quality expected by passengers.”