Chalk up another customer for the ViaSat-2 network. JetBlue confirmed upgrades for all of its Airbus aircraft in a recent internal company memo. Those upgrades allow the planes to talk to the new satellite. The necessary hardware swaps will begin in 2018.
The move is not a surprise given that a company representative attended the launch of the ViaSat-2 earlier this summer. Still, this appears to be the first public confirmation that the carrier will upgrade its aircraft to use the new system. Only the Airbus fleet will see the upgrades. This makes sense given the aircraft route profiles. A few Embraer 190s fly offshore (out of the ViaSat-1 coverage area) but not nearly as often as the A320/321s.
The carrier also confirmed in the memo that the A320 retrofit will include the AVANT platform from Thales InFlyt. This IFE shift first came to light – unconfirmed – in June of this year. Sharing it broadly with employees confirms the move.
Alas, not all the aircraft will receive Avant. The first tranche of retrofits will see the LiveTV4 kit installed on the A320s. This matches the system currently flying on the A321 fleet. Switching from LTV4 to AVANT will take place at Q3 2018 based on current plans. The carrier expects the A320neo orders will get the AVANT system when those deliveries begin.
JetBlue initially announced that the A320 retrofit program would include Thales’ STV+ product. It is unclear what the future of that offering is given that JetBlue is no longer implementing it. Thales indicated over the summer that Azul is still a candidate customer but it is unclear what the timing or certainty of that move is.
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Delivering a mixed solution on the fleet is not ideal, either from a passenger or an airline perspective. It means an inconsistent passenger experience and maintenance challenges along the way. Still, both systems are miles ahead of the LTV2 kit that is flying on the A320s and E190s today. With the interior retrofit now nearly a year delayed waiting even longer for a unified in-seat screen option would be even worse for passengers and for the business.
JetBlue already is catching heat from Wall Street analysts on the retrofit delays. The work adds 12 seats to each A320, reducing CASM with a relatively low CapEx. It also increases capacity in a controlled manner that doesn’t involve buying additional aircraft. The work is nearly a year late, however. That’s proving hard for some investors to handle. Those same investors won’t care so much about the minor inconsistency in on-board product, especially if JetBlue finally delivers on the $100mm annual incremental revenue bump the program is expected to deliver.
The retrofit delay did prove slightly useful to the company in an unexpected manner. It turns out the Space-flex v2 lavatory experienced build quality issues. The company is addressing the problems on its A321 fleet now. The A320s will get the newer, more reliable version of that galley/lav combo when the retrofits start. The most recent word from management on timing is a “decision point” set for later this month. The delay saves an extra trip to the hangar for adjustments had the retrofits started earlier this year as initially planned.