European and Asian airlines are playing catchup with U.S. carriers in adding connectivity to the passenger experience. Luckily, that means these airlines can choose among much better technologies for connecting to the Internet. But the very variety of choices poses some challenges for decision- makers.
For example, Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom are now offering EAN, or the European Aviation Network. EAN will combine satellite service with a 300 4G LTE ground stations to offer Europe and much of the Mediterranean Sea fast, high capacity S-band connectivity in flight. The IAG Group, including BA, Vueling, Aer Lingus and Iberia, have chosen EAN and begun equipping for it. The Lufthansa Group is considering it for the future, although it has already selected another, all-satellite service from Inmarsat.
The combination of satellite and ground connections has some definite advantages, including reliable coverage in congested airspace. But it does require antennae on both the top and bottom of the fuselage, unlike all-satellite coverage.
Inmarsat Senior Vice President Frederik Van Essen said his firm designed EAN for easy and inexpensive installation. For example, the top antenna weighs just four to five kilograms, much lighter than Ka-band antennas coming into use. And the bottom antennae are just two little blades, about the size of coca cola cans.
The installation is thus not expensive, but it is different than one supporting all-satellite service. And because the bottom antennae connect through a section of the fuselage subject to ingress by water vapor, jet fuel and other contaminants, a very tight seal must be maintained. EAN has chosen a special sealing assembly made by W. L. Gore & Associates to keep things tight.
IAG carriers expect to start using EAN in the second half of 2017 and expect to finish 90% of installations by the first half of 2019. For economy purposes, installations are done during heavy checks. And that points to another implication of the connectivity revolution: to be competitive on airframe checks, it is increasingly desirable for an MRO to be able to do modifications and, if possible, to design modifications for the latest wave of digital changes.