Monday 10 December 2018

Ben Griffin

Inmarsat: Connecting you in the air

MANAMA, May 18, 2017

By Sree Bhat

A growing number of airlines are selecting the high speed broadband services (GX Aviation) provided by Inmarsat, a leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services , for providing inflight connectivity.

Inmarsat and Qatar Airways recently announced plans to install GX Aviation inflight broadband solution across Qatar Airways’ flagship fleet.

GX Aviation is the world’s first inflight connectivity solution with reliable, seamless high-speed global coverage provided through a single operator, Inmarsat says.

Inmarsat has built a team of experts from various fields, that have come together to deliver pertinent solutions to the aviation market.

“We are now seeing a growing degree of proliferation of airlines selecting Inmarsat’s high speed broadband services. IFC can be a clear service differentiator for an airline, often making the difference between ticket sales, or not,” says Ben Griffin, regional vice president MEA Aviation, Inmarsat, in an interview with TradeArabia.

“Whether we like it or not, the connected revolution is well under way and generations to come demand the basic right to be connected regardless of being on the land, sea or in the air,” he says.

Excerpts from the interview:

Inmarsat is making huge strides in aviation communication. Please provide an overview of the latest developments in this sector and Inmarsat's innovative solutions?

Inmarsat has long been involved in aviation connectivity; predominantly with the cockpit communications for safety applications, but more so now with the explosion of interest and demand for passenger connectivity. To address this, Inmarsat took the decision to invest nearly $2 billion in 2010 and has made significant further investments since then, in order to provide a broadband service capable of providing the levels of bandwidth and performance for tomorrow’s passengers.

The philosophy was to start with a global coverage pattern, which has been achieved with its initial constellation of three GX/Ka band satellites. This is being complemented with additional satellite coverage (most recently the launch of our 4th satellite for this constellation on May 15) where it is required to meet the needs of high density capacity requirements. Aside from providing a network that provides bandwidth and uninterrupted coverage for airline routes, Inmarsat has built a team of experts from various fields, that have come together to deliver pertinent solutions to the aviation market. Whether these are ISP functions or value added services, we are developing all sorts of services, solutions and applications that are in high demand from airlines and their passengers. The main objective here is to provide a quality service to passengers at a price point that allows maximum flexibility to airlines to develop the service in whichever way suits their particular brand or philosophy. This represents a significant deviation from the way in which IFC is being offered today by many of the alternative IFC providers, who operate a far more rigid model.

How are these developments being accepted and implemented by the global airlines?
We have done a great job in getting the market ready for the implementation of these services; it has taken years and we have developed very good existing relationships that, to some degree, we have nurtured from our legacy business. Inmarsat is regarded as a quality provider of robust network services; a high enough quality to meet stringent Air Traffic Control standards worldwide. There are very few airlines in the world who aren’t looking at IFC in some way or form and building from our strong legacy position, the Inmarsat proposition is compelling due to the reputation of quality, reliability and long standing in the market. We are now seeing a growing degree of proliferation of airlines selecting Inmarsat’s high speed broadband services (GX aviation) - Qatar Airways, IAG, Lufthansa Group, Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand, Norwegian Air Shuttle to name a few – with many more to be announced throughout the rest of 2017 and beyond.

GCC has some of the world's biggest airlines. How are they implementing these latest broadband technologies for the benefit of passengers?
The GCC airlines mostly already have some degree of IFC and have been early adopters of these services for their passengers. It fits well with their profile to offer the very best in passenger services, which was certainly the main driver behind Qatar Airways’ selection of Inmarsat GX for their B777/A350 fleet. It is difficult, however, to embody these changes in aircraft already operating for the airlines. In order to make the fairly significant retrofit changes both inside and outside of the fuselage, it requires taking the aircraft out of revenue service for a few days. This is typically done coincidentally with the airline’s heavy maintenance schedule to mitigate special grounding, but on some occasions these retrofits are of great enough priority to make special groundings. What we are seeing among the GCC airlines with significant new aircraft coming from Boeing and Airbus, is very smart planning ahead. The Inmarsat technology is available line-fit (fit by the manufacturers as part of the aircraft assembly) which means that when these aircraft enter service with the airline they already have the equipment installed – which makes life considerable easier.

The passenger is at the forefront of all of this – the forward thinking of the airlines, along with Inmarsat, to be able to forecast passenger trends and needs is quite amazing. IFC can be a clear service differentiator for an airline, often making the difference between ticket sales, or not. Anticipating the needs of the passenger to connect their devices and what it is they want to do in flight for the coming years is not an easy task – but with Inmarsat the airlines can be confident they are getting a scalable platform that will not lock them out of future upgrades and capabilities. It’s not all about ‘just’ passenger Wifi, of course. With decent, reliable connectivity the crews can cater for passenger needs far better in terms of CRM and a whole host of other services.

Qatar Airways recently announced introduction of high-speed broadband in partnership with Inmarsat (GX Aviation). Please tell us more about this partnership.
Qatar Airways and Inmarsat have been working together since the inception of the airline – Qatar Airways uses Inmarsat’s satellite technology for safety services on all of its wide-body aircraft and already operates cabin connectivity using Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband service on many of its aircraft. From our close working relationship, Qatar Airways identified a need to enhance the passenger connectivity in a way that existing providers simply couldn’t meet, QR has installed various connectivity solutions on its aircraft previously. An airline such as Qatar Airways has very strong insistence on 5 star service and prides itself on putting passengers at the focus of everything they do – so the Inmarsat GX aviation technology with assured levels of performance was the perfect fit. We worked together for many months to define the requirements and expectations and we are now pleased to have their commitment on the B777 and A350 fleet, initially. This is significant as it underlines Qatar Airways trust in Inmarsat to deliver a service in line with their very high levels of service and delivery – something Inmarsat has always taken great pride in.

Any other major deals in the offing in the region?
Yes. But none that can be disclosed at this point.

With cost factor being a restricting element in the take up of the services by passengers, how are you encouraging the airlines to make it more cost-effective to passengers?
It is not simply the cost that may turn passengers off, it is also the mechanism of payment that has proved difficult. Credit card transactions on aircraft are frequently cumbersome and prove a significant barrier to increasing uptake. Inmarsat has been working on, and is making available, multiple ways of authentication to overcome these hurdles. This means passengers can use multiple ways of getting online without traditional payment methods – much more aligned to the ways in which we connect and authenticate on the ground. Simplifying the ‘login’ pages and processes is key to getting higher uptake. Of course, cost is of concern and there are multiple models that are available to tackle this – but these are fairly sensitive and do vary airline by airline, depending again on their philosophy and on how they wish to offer service to passengers in different classes of travel. What we can confidently say is that the cost of data is reducing and Inmarsat’s GX represents extremely high value in terms of providing the highest quality, assured service levels with keen pricing.

The low-cost airlines are another big market for these services. How do you see them taking up the products you offer?
The LCC community are looking at this and implementing it. As above, the models do require tweaking as they are typically less brand sensitive and, therefore, open to alternative models that may incorporate third party involvement.

Other than passengers using the service, what are the key areas in which your solutions can be used by airlines to increase efficiency and safety?
Passengers are indeed one of the main stakeholders of this service. Cabin crew are another – offering a stable connection allows significant improvement in many aspects of crew performance – not only in CRM (customer care, changing gate information, connecting flights etc) but perhaps more importantly with telemedicine applications where crew can connect to healthcare experts on the ground and access real-time video diagnosis and support in cases of in- flight sickness where the airline may otherwise elect to divert the aircraft, saving very significant sums of money. Connecting the aircraft to the airline network enables the most valuable assets (the aircraft and crew) to always be connected to monitor all manner of elements. For technical and operational staff, connected peripherals such as engine data, airframe health, fuel levels etc can lead to efficiencies that, frankly, the industry has not yet properly explored. Once again, Inmarsat is conducting significant research to see how this can be realised both in terms of cost savings and service enhancements

What is your vision for the next five years?
The vision for the next five years is to get the region’s airlines connected – to provide the choice for passengers if they want to connect, or not. To allow passengers to connect reliably to a service that doesn’t cut in or cut out – to provide an experience that passengers don’t see a need to complain about, to have airline partners who want to do more. Whether we like it or not, the connected revolution is well under way and generations to come demand the basic right to be connected regardless of being on the land, sea or in the air. I would like to see the region’s airlines taking Inmarsat’s services – but for now I will be pleased to watch Qatar Airways rolling out a connectivity service that is the envy of the world. - TradeArabia News Service


Tags: Qatar Airways | Inmarsat | Connectivity |

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