The Boeing 747-8 is set to receive Ka-band satellite inflight connectivity in 2018. Lufthansa Technik announced the it won a contract to fit the aircraft starting next year. The deal covers “several” aircraft but the customer is not disclosed. With only 36 flying in commercial service and no pending deliveries there are not many options for who might be buying the product. And whoever it is will be a new airline customer for the Inmarsat Global Xpress (GX) platform.
Lufthansa Technik has been appointed by an undisclosed customer to equip several Boeing 747-8 aircraft with the new broadband Internet solution in the Ka-band frequency range from 2018 onwards. This will make Lufthansa Technik the world’s first MRO provider to offer modifications for this aircraft type.
The three commercial carriers flying the 747-8i are Korean Airlines, Air China and Lufthansa. Of these Lufthansa appears least likely to be adopting the GX solution. The company already has Panasonic Avionics‘ Ku-band kit installed on its 748 fleet and the costs associated with changing that over seem likely to challenge any potential benefits of such a move, particularly if the carrier keeps the Ku on its other long-haul aircraft.
Korean Airlines does not offer inflight connectivity on any of its aircraft today. The company historically claimed that none of the offerings on the market were sufficient to meet the expectations of its home base customers. Given that Korea is the most connected country on the planet with spectacularly high data speeds available at very affordable prices it is not hard to believe that those passengers would be disappointed in even the best inflight wifi solutions offered today. And delivering those speeds on a global scale.
Air China is a reasonable contender for the service add. Inmarsat has spoken about its efforts to grow a presence in the Chinese market and delivering on that with a premier customer and product would be a big win. The Chinese connectivity market is still one of the most challenging to operate in, though there are signs on many fronts that the government is ready to let things move forward more quickly now. Mobile phones are finally permitted on board, for example.
There is a fourth option, a dark horse of sorts, to consider. The Qatar Amiri fleet consists of three 747-8i planes in BBJ configuration. That would count as “several” to meet the description in the release. Two of the three in the fleet fly with a Ku-band radome today while the third is “stored” as a new delivery, likely getting conversion work done. And Qatar Airways recently signed a major contract with Inmarsat. The deal is significant enough that Inmarsat is launching an additional satellite to support the bandwidth demands of the carrier. Putting these three Amiri aircraft on that same kit makes sense for many reasons.
Technik did not state which of its many MROs would perform the work, making fleet stalking all the more difficult on this one. Fortunately the total number flying remains low enough that we should know for certain soon enough.
Header image via Lufthansa Technik