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Connectivity is now recognized as a basic human right and the ever-evolving demands of customers have now resulted in an expectation to be connected at all times!

This demand to be connected now extends to when we’re flying from one destination in the world to another. Emirates Airlines has long been a pioneer in championing WiFi connectivity for its passengers on-board all of its flights since becoming the first carrier in the world to offer such services over a decade ago.

However, the demand to have access to WiFi has now risen exponentially over the past number of years as we have become a more ‘connected society’. This new growth area in relation to in-flight connectivity has led to a lucrative new opportunity for satellite operators to create new revenue models in what has become an increasingly disrupted and competitive telecommunications industry.

Airline carriers need to be able to provide their passengers with access to high performance WiFi connectivity. Basic WiFi access for free for a couple of hours does not satisfy passengers. This has created a new challenge for the aviation industry.

Put simply, airlines that don’t provide WiFi services will lose market share and profits will plummet. This demand and expectation from passengers has created a vacuum for satellite operators to deliver enhanced broadband connectivity to the airline industry.

However, it has become evident that many challenges lie ahead. In-flight connectivity is made via satellite and this inevitably creates intense competition between satellite operators to secure lucrative contracts and agreements with airlines.

The satellite industry is undoubtedly enhancing connectivity to the airline sector, but satellite broadband still needs to be significantly improved in order to meet the growing market demands.

In the current climate, the connectivity that exists today is restricted and limited in terms of bandwidth which doesn’t sufficiently support and facilitate the required level of functionality that the airline industry expects.

In addition to this, there are also many regulatory barriers to overcome if the aviation industry is going to achieve its overall objective, which is deliver uninterrupted WiFi connectivity to its passengers on-board any flight. There are still many countries that prohibit the use of WiFi over their territories, with India being a prime example of this policy.

Airlines are going to have to invest heavily not only in connectivity bandwidth but also in CAPEX. The WiFi connectivity challenges for airlines are not exclusive to passengers. Cockpit connectivity is also a major vertical for satellite operators. Airlines are now recognizing the benefits of installing and integrating new technologies into its existing system in order to relay real-time data from cockpits back to air control centres.

One satellite operator that has taken advantage of the opportunity within the aviation industry is UAE satellite provider Thuraya Telecommunications Company. The operator released a new innovation solution entitled ‘Thuraya Aero’ which has resonated with many within its target market. The cutting-edge innovative solution is a satellite communication service that enables in-flight connectivity for internet access, voice calls, text messaging and high speed data applications on board small- to medium-sized aircrafts.

Developed in partnership with trusted leaders in aviation solutions - namely SCOTTY, Cobham and SRT, Thuraya Aero is suitable for fixed wing and rotary wing aircrafts as well as any other air platforms flying missions beyond line of sight.

CEO of Scotty Group Kurt Kerschat highlighted the critical importance for airlines to be able to provide its passengers with the opportunity to be connected at all times.

Kerschat said, “When you look at the cooperation that we have with two parties involved with the Thuraya Aero solution, I think it represents the perfect match from a business perspective. If you examine the current situation in the modern world, it’s very evident that connectivity is entering all aspects of our daily lives. Connectivity is critically important in almost every industry across the globe. People want to be connected all the time, and that extends to when they’re travelling by air, they want to be connected when they’re on an aircraft. You see that now with a number of airline carriers such as Emirates that you can connect to WiFi while onboard. Connectivity on the aircraft is vitally important for passengers, and this is something we call ‘cabin connectivity’.” 

Andreas Krenn, managing director of ProtectivesTrading, which is a company based in Dubai that provides crucial and life-saving equipment to defense and law enforcement units in the Middle East and Africa, echoed the sentiments expressed by Kerschat and illustrated the complex differences in connectivity demands between passengers and the cockpit. 

Krenn said, “It’s very important to focus attention on the connectivity requirements in the cockpit. The cockpit usage and demands of connectivity are not comparable to that of a passengers’ use of WiFi. Passengers will be accessing applications like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter. In relation to cockpit connectivity, you need to think about data link applications directly related to air traffic management, optimizing route trajectories and enhancing operational efficiencies – all to the benefits of aircraft operators. Further to enhance the operational efficiencies, the cockpit connectivity demand is driven by regulatory requirements. The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has introduced new rules which need to be rolled out by aircraft operators in the next two years. Every new aircraft that is being delivered to go into service has to be equipped with specific connectivity equipment to fulfil the requirement which links the cockpit with the air traffic management systems,” added Krenn.

Other satellite operators such as SES Networks and Eutelsat have identified the golden opportunity that is being presented by increasing connectivity demands in the aviation industry. They have both restructured their strategies accordingly in an effort to grab a share of the market.

In truth, multiple satellite operators globally are placing much more emphasis on the aviation industry in an effort to create new revenue streams outside of its traditional core business model. This was evidenced further by the agreement between Air France and Golden Eagle.

Air France awarded a long-term contract for in-flight connectivity systems and services to a partnership consisting of Global Eagle, a US leading provider of satellite-based broadband connectivity and Orange Business Services, which is a subsidiary arm of the French telecommunications behemoth Orange.

The collaboration between Global Eagle and Orange Business Services will deliver high speed internet, industry-leading passenger portal interfaces and services, integrated billing and passenger data analytics supporting Air France’s digital transformation initiatives and its progressive customer experience vision. 

“In-Flight Connectivity gives Air France the opportunity to enhance the customer experience and to take a major step towards digital transformation,” said Pierre-Louis Biaggi, vice president, Connectivity at Orange Business Services. “Orange Business Services has leveraged its high performance network and its strong experience in project management to support Air France’s ambitious goals. Together with our partner Global Eagle, we will enable Air France to be the first airline in Europe to take full advantage of the KU-High-throughput satellite network and thus drastically increase on-board passenger connectivity experience.”

“Air France sought industry-leading connectivity solutions with the highest reliability and quality to power superior customer service, innovation and digitization,” said Josh Marks, Global Eagle CEO. “Together with our partner Orange Business Services, we are proud to support Air France’s ambitions with high-speed gate-to-gate internet, integrated with our powerful customer portal for the Air France short and medium haul fleet.”

Expect to see more and more of these types of collaboration and partnerships as satellite operators and providers of satellite-based broadband connectivity attempt to seize the lucrative opportunities that now exist in the aviation industry.

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