The first UON-equipped aircraft entered commercial service this week. The Saudia A320 HZ-ASB returned to the company’s fleet on 9 November 2018 and began passenger service the following day. The aircraft serves Geneva from hubs in Riyadh and Jeddah, including the necessary domestic flights between those airports.
The satellite technology (KU / KA) will enable Saudi Arabian Airlines to provide the best satellite technology outside the United States through the service provider “Space Technology”, a company owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). Guests will be able to dial 3G mobile phones and enjoy high-speed Internet access of more than 50 megabytes per second and can watch live satellite TV As a new entertainment option.
The service marks a milestone for provider Taqnia Space with its first equipped aircraft in service. The UON business model sees Taqnia bear all the costs and risks associated with the implementation but also keep all of the revenue. That’s a risky play in market that, to date, hasn’t produced much in the way of profits for connectivity providers nor evidence of passengers willing to pay for connectivity on board.
Taqnia Space previously predicted entry into service in late September. It is unclear if the delay in this case was caused by issues with the UON system or with the other retrofit work performed on the aircraft. This particular aircraft did not start its retrofit until early October according to flight history data. In addition to the new inflight wifi connectivity system the aircraft also received a new cabin interior.
The A320 now flies with only 110 seats split between 20 in business class and 90 in economy. Previously the configuration was 20J96Y on board. The new business class cabin features fully flat seats (the Rockwell Collins Diamond product) with 16″ entertainment screens.
In economy class the seats receive 11″ screens and larger overhead bins ere installed during the retrofit.