Since installs began in late 2015 the Lufthansa Group airlines have moved relatively quickly to install inflight connectivity on board their single-aisle fleet. The Global Xpress (GX) platform from Inmarsat is now flying on all of the Austrian planes while Eurowings installs are approaching completion. The Lufthansa fleet trails behind in total connected frames but it, too, will be fully fitted relatively soon. And then there is Swiss.
The Swiss regional aircraft do not have any connectivity solution installed. Moreover, conversations about installing GX on those planes are either nonexistent or spectacularly quiet. Combine that with a previous agreement between Inmarsat and Lufthansa Group to “trial Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network (EAN), which combines an S-band satellite with a complementary LTE ground network” and it appears that the EAN efforts may be pushed to the Swiss fleet.
There are a few technical reasons this move makes sense. For one, the route profile flown by the Swiss aircraft is better suited to EAN’s coverage footprint than the other LH Group carriers. The single-aisle fleet stays relatively close to home, with nearly all destinations included in the EAN terrestrial coverage map; the satellite network should cover the outliers, assuming regulatory approval is granted in those countries (e.g. Russia, Ukraine). Eurowings, Lufthansa and Austrian all operate their single-aisle aircraft further afield, particularly into Northern Africa and the Canary Islands where neither the terrestrial nor satellite EAN coverage will reach.
Swiss also flies a slightly different fleet makeup than the others. The Bombardier CSeries CS100 and CS300 fly for Swiss while the rest of the group is firmly focused on the Airbus A320 family of aircraft. The slightly smaller CSeries fuselage presents certain challenges with respect to carrying the large Ka-band satellite antenna and radome that the GX system requires. It is not impossible to put satellite connectivity on the CSeries frame – Gogo and Bombardier intend to deliver it line-fit to Delta in 2018 – but there are trade-offs in weight and aerodynamics with such a move.
Finally, there are whispers in the industry that the seating arrangement on the Swiss A320-family aircraft is such that the placement of the radome at the rear of the aircraft may create other operational challenges for the fleet. The Swiss version is back-heavy, with an extra 10 seats between the last two doors compared to the Lufthansa version. Placing the heavy antenna and radome assembly there could shift the center-of-gravity challenges just enough to make the GX installation less than ideal.