By the end of 2016, about 6,500 aircraft had received broadband connectivity, and by 2026 about 26,000 aircraft will be connected, according to estimates presented at the 2017 Global Connected Aircraft Summit.
This means plenty of modifications lie ahead, and plenty includes some major fleets. For example, Air France is just beginning to install connectivity in its fleet, according to Inflight Connectivity Manager Matthieu Dolle. Five aircraft will have connectivity by the end of 2017, and the entire fleet is supposed to be fitted by 2020. Dolle said one-to-two hour narrowbody flights within Europe makes entertainment connectivity less necessary for leisure travelers, but business travelers need to stay in touch during even short journeys.
In South America, the huge LATAM Group with more than 300 aircraft will begin installing connectivity in 2018. Customer Experience Manager Felipe Uriarte said LATAM’s existing onboard wireless services have prepared passengers for complete connectivity, and Latin American communication markets are now mature enough to justify aircraft connections. But he does not like the ten-year commitments sought by connectivity providers. Adding preparation time, these would require LATAM to commit to a price per Megabyte over 12 to 13 years, during which time he expects connectivity costs to come down substantially. He is looking for shorter commitments or more flexible offers.
Apart from entirely new connections, there will be lesser modifications for airlines that want to upgrade connectivity. Icelandair has broadband on all its aircraft, and Southwest has it on 80% of its fleet and will have connectivity on all aircraft by the end of 2017. But both Ingigerdur Erlingsdottir of Icelandair and Tara Bamburg of Southwest told GCA attendees that they constantly struggle to meet passengers’ increasing expectations for connectivity quality. That could mean new modems, better antennas or other changes will be necessary in the future.
Pressures for installing or upgrading aircraft Internet connections run up against a constraint. Airlines may swallow the expense of connection equipment if it is required to attract passengers. But United Airlines IT Director Jon Merritt stressed the necessity of fitting either new installations or upgrades within scheduled maintenance visits. Revenue-losing downtime is the one penalty carriers are most reluctant to incur.