With successful tests on two airlines, AirFi sees certification of its LEO inflight connectivity offering on the horizon. Clearing that hurdle is critical, of course, but then the real work begins. The company must also make the business case to airlines, sliding AirFi LEO in between the higher priced and higher bandwidth satellite offerings and the disconnected status quo.
CEO Job Heimerikx comes at that argument from both sides, pushing both the increased revenue opportunities of a connected aircraft, as well as cost savings. And delivering those without the cost and weight of a larger broadband solution on board is a key differentiator for the product.
We’re not talking about browsing or streaming or end-user behavior. We’re talking about making the business case.– AirFi CEO Job Heimerikx
In conversations earlier this month at the World Aviation Festival in Amsterdam the argument was made that airlines should not expect their inflight connectivity solutions to be directly profitable. Heimerikx objected to that theory during the panel discussion, though the other may have drowned out the protests. Still, there are many airlines which cannot rely on other departments within the organization to subsidize connectivity on board. Yet potential remains for benefits from an online inflight experience. Just not the same one many passengers think of today.
The AirFi LEO system is a lightweight offering, consisting of two small antennas mounted in the plane’s windows, a modem, and the AirFi media box. It uses the same Iridium Next satellite constellation as the fflya solution now in trials on Wizz Air. But AirFi operates with a very different view of the market, and a different take on how much bandwidth is necessary.
The two most compelling features for AirFi LEO today are real-time weather updates and transaction processing on board. Getting current weather information to the flight deck allows for more efficient routings and a more comfortable trip. An initial test with KLM‘s Cargo division yielded strong results on the navigational front.
For transaction processing, AirFi sees an opportunity to remove fraud and increase cart size, both cutting costs and increasing revenue. Tests with Atlantic Airways are promising, even with deployment delays related to COVID.
And once the system is on board to improve payment security with lower cost the other use cases begin to open up. Advertising becomes more targeted when the systems have connectivity. Little passenger wins like updated connecting gate information can be delivered on board.
More significantly, however, the onboard shopping experience can be extended to a massively larger catalog. Fulfillment occurs on the ground at arrival rather than in the air. The connection allows a shopping cart to be transmitted for pennies.
Heimerikx also sees a risk with opening up too much direct internet access, at least for a certain type of airline. “For the low cost carriers [streaming and web browsing] are actions they don’t want to have. You lose the contact with the clients. It is very dangerous for the business case with that type of airline, as they lose the brand connection with the passengers during the trip.”
But a lightweight connection does open up the ability for real-time booking of restaurant reservations, event tickets, or tour packages for the destination city. The catalog can be cached on the aircraft with just inventory and pricing updating on the thin link.
An expanded inflight shopping experience is the sort of thing Heimerikx sees as potentially benefitting even more established airlines, such as AirFi’s newest partner, easyJet. Today that deal covers snacks, drinks, and duty-free shopping on board. Extending it to destination-focused products, with minimal additional expense, could be a big win for the AirFi LEO solution.
Heimerikx also sees potential for a limited end-user connectivity experience as part of the equation, but operational benefits to the airline are the main focus.
The fflya platform’s focus is primarily passenger messaging service, delivered via a custom app and a Bluetooth connection on board. The company monetizes the platform through targeted advertising in that interface. It also recently added credit card transaction processing to its portfolio.
One reason, perhaps, for the different service offerings between fflya and AirFi LEO is the different connections used on the Iridium network. Fflya uses Iridium’s burst messaging service, with limited bandwidth and an asynchronous architecture (more like SMS messaging than a standard IP link) compared to the Certus connection of AirFi LEO. This gives AirFi more flexibility to scale up the offering into other on-board services. Also of note, AirFi initially trialed the burst messaging platform, choosing to migrate to Certus for the increased capacity.
More news from World Aviation Festival 2022
- Looking Beyond NPS as a customer satisfaction metric
- easyJet snags AirFi for digital inflight transformation
- Airlines see a renewed digital transformation push from IATA
- Can inflight Wi-Fi ever be profitable?
- BAGTAG targets North American expansion, adds homing solution
- AirFi LEO aims to alter the inflight retail landscape
- Pairing, casting and streaming: The next generation of inflight entertainment emerges
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