The new A350-900 fleet for SAS will fly with the Inmarsat GX Aviation inflight wifi product when they are delivered beginning at the end of 2019. The first official flight is scheduled for January 2020, with service between Chicago and Copenhagen. Additional crew familiarization flights within Scandinavia are planned prior to that.
The GX selection gives SAS access to Inmarsat’s global Ka-band satellite network, offering highspeed connectivity nearly everywhere the A350s will fly. SAS plans to use the planes to connect its Scandinavian hubs to Chicago, Beijing, New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong and San Francisco. While GX does not offer polar coverage the routes involved generally should not fly that far north. SAS plans to grow its A350 fleet to eight frames, with deliveries stretching through the next few years.
GX Aviation is already the gold standard for inflight broadband and our extensive long-term development plans for the service have been extremely well received by the aviation industry, as this contract win with Scandinavian Airlines has shown. The superior capabilities of GX Aviation and its status as the only solution with global coverage was a perfect fit for the airline’s new Airbus A350 aircraft, which will cover high demand long-haul routes from Scandinavia to the United States and Asia. We look forward to working with the airline on the service’s rollout to passengers from early next year.– Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation
The selection also brings a third inflight connectivity provider into the SAS operations. The carrier has contracts with Panasonic Avionics for its current long-haul fleet of A330 and A340 aircraft. The short-haul fleet is fitted with Viasat’s solution.
The carrier is very satisfied with the Viasat system’s performance on its short-haul network but extending that to the Asian routes the A350s will fly would prove a challenge. Viasat does not have satellite coverage heading east from Europe today and the timeline for its ViaSat-3 constellation to deliver such stretches out a few years; SAS needs the capabilities now. In theory a Ku/Ka solution from Viasat would work, and rumor has other airlines deep into that discussion, but no commitments exist publicly. Also, the KuKa option makes the most sense when the planes will predominantly fly under Ka capacity. The SAS route plans don’t deliver that with Viasat’s current coverage.
While some airlines struggled early on with mixed passenger experiences with multiple providers, payment systems, accounts and service levels the SAS approach has worked relatively well with two providers. Bringing the third on should not cause too much additional trouble for travelers.
The contract win for Inmarsat adds yet another carrier to the company’s roster. A350s from Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, Evelop and more all fly with the GX solution on board. The growing installation base will make use of the company’s growing Ka-band satellite capacity, allowing it to continue delivering the performance airlines and passengers expect. Inmarsat recently announced plans to add three more satellites to its GX constellation, bringing its owned payload count to ten once the next set reaches orbit.