Since the order announcement in July 2019 the Air France A220 fleet has been expected to enter service with in-flight connectivity active. The company reconfirmed that plan during the Connected Aviation Intelligence Virtual Summit last week, adding an additional detail: The aircraft will fly with the Intelsat 2Ku kit on board.
In a wide-ranging session Sam Krouwer, Senior product owner for IFC at Air France – KLM Group, indicated that the planes would enter passenger service with the system active. And while it will be 2Ku under the hood, the passenger experience should be comparable to the rest of the Air France fleet.
Krouwer highlighted the carrier’s transition to a home-grown, common portal interface that passengers interact with, regardless of the underlying satellite link. Putting that front-end on the connectivity portal allows the airlines to deliver a common experience to passengers, at least theoretically. Slight differences in some of the offerings, such as live television availability remain. And the overall network performance can vary, affecting passenger experience, though the heavily shaped bandwidth profiles sold to users helps mitigate that.
While Krouwer did not directly address the reasoning behind the vendor selection he did state the company likes to match technology on board to specific fleet types based on aircraft specifications and route plans. But does that really make sense with this selection?
The rest of the Air France single-aisle fleet carries the Anuvu (f/k/a Global Eagle) solution. KLM recently activated its first Viasat install on the European/short-haul fleet. So why Gogo on these planes that will likely operate in a very similar route and mission profile?
One consideration – and likely a significant factor – is that the 2Ku offering is the only product available installed at the factory today. Gogo and Airbus committed to that for Delta’s very first A220 and that investment may be paying off for Intelsat today. Viasat‘s Ka-band solution is the only other connectivity offering in service on the A220, flying with JetBlue. That kit is not line-fit offerable. At least not yet.
It would be easy to see this as another example of the supposed synergies of a combined AFKL operation not really delivering smoothed supplier channels. Perhaps it can be seen as a small win that the company didn’t add another vendor to the mix?
Will it be free?
The industry is awash in conversations about making wifi free to the passenger. Air France and KLM already offer a free messaging plan, but Krouwer was hesitant to commit to more than that, at least not just for the sake of making more connectivity free.
He explained, “Free IFC is not a goal in itself, but it is an expectation of our customers a couple years from now.” Acknowledging that the demand exists, but also that the service comes with very real costs, Krouwer is clear that the IFC solution must have a positive revenue impact one way or another for the company. But it need not necessarily be a top-line number. He’s willing to accept that the ROI is not a direct revenue stream, but in helping drive passenger satisfaction and repeat purchase. “If they love to fly Air France and KLM – and the free WiFi is part of that – then that’s a profit.”
The company must still deal with significant costs associated with delivering the service, and “Balancing the costs and offering a product for free with the customer satisfaction rate attached to that is a balancing act that we try to play.”
Still, Krouwer does expect the company to make plays in the free space from time to time, feeling out what the real costs and benefits to the operation are, “Over the coming years we will probably extend the free wifi roadmap to larger groups. But it will be an experimental process.”
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