The European Aviation Network inflight connectivity system is officially live. Launch customer British Airways activated the hybrid satellite/air-to-ground systems on “a handful of aircraft” this week, kicking off the soft launch phase of operations. Inmarsat CEO Rupert Pearce described this as “A momentous event as it means EAN is officially in service and billing. Finally.” The full fleet is expected to be active by the end of June 2019.
The “finally” in Pearce’s comment is telling. It is a relief that the service is finally available to some passengers and brings closure to a program that shows great promise but that also has delivered many delays along the way. The S-band satellite launch was delayed, finally entering orbit in Summer 2017. Inmarsat announced in September 2017 that the satellite was ready for service. In October 2017 the first test flights were successfully logged using some of the earlier deployed ground stations. In February 2018 Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia declared the 300+ tower ground component fully deployed and the integration testing complete.
In the intervening year the companies worked to complete hardware installation across the A320 family of British Airways planes, pushing towards a full launch of the system. The smaller, lighter antenna system relative to traditional satellite-based services enables a faster install time, easing the deployment process for airlines.
EAN is the world’s first dedicated aviation connectivity solution which effectively combines space and ground-based components, overcoming the traditional limitations of inflight internet. Bringing connectivity to the skies is a complex effort and we could only realize this through strategic collaboration with our European partners. – Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President at Inmarsat Aviation
Of particular note is Pearce’s mention about billing for the service. Inmarsat’s Ka-band satellite GX Aviation solution has seen a steady installation pace since that work began with Lufthansa Group planes in late 2015. But the total number considered commercially active hovers just above 20% of the total installed. The other almost 80% are not yet paying for the data usage on the network. Getting the BA planes paying from day one of usage is a nice financial win for the company.
While the service launch is monumental a small cloud remains for the operation. Legal claims against the EAN service continue in multiple countries, driven by Viasat and Eutelsat. The most recent ruling sees a small portion of these claims elevated to the European Court of Justice for opinion, a move that should bring some closure once a ruling is handed down. Alas, all parties expect that to be 18-24 months in the future. And the additional cases remain in progress. One of the main arguments in these cases is the delayed launch of the service. It could make that “finally” Pearce uttered more relevant than he likely planned.
More European Aviation Network coverage
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- Inmarsat, Deutsche Telekom complete first EAN flight tests
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- Allez, EAN! Approval arrives in France for Inmarsat’s newest service
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- French court rules, refers on EAN licenses
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