Wizz Air will fit its UK fleet with satellite-based internet access. The carrier plans to expand its trial of the fflya product from AS-IP Tech to 19 aircraft according to a recent regulatory filing.
But the move will not bring true internet connectivity to passengers. The fflya platform is a unique service that uses Bluetooth rather than WiFi for clients to connect to the on-board server. Only a limited subset of typical online services are offered.
The three-year deal will see AS-IP cover the cost of delivering the solution to Wizz Air. The companies agreed to a revenue sharing model that allows AS-IP to recoup its investment based on utilization of the on-board services. The deal calls for AS-IP to “provide its fflya system for 19 of WIZZs United Kingdom based A320 and A321 aircraft under the previously agreed revenue sharing arrangement.”
The fflya platform delivers free inflight text messaging to passengers, as well as interactive promotions, especially around tours and activities at the destination. The messaging uses fflya’s bespoke interface, which raises questions around adoption and access to third party applications, especially if multi-factor authentication is enabled.
Read More: Wizz Air gets online – without wifi!
But messaging also is not really the focus of the application. Sure, it’ll get users to open the app and connect to the service. The real draw for Wizz and AS-IP, however, is affiliate marketing. The ability to sell tours to travelers en route is a major component of the fflya platform, one that the company hopes will ultimately pay for the services.
Other in-flight portals have tried to sell passengers on destination-related offerings. Hotels typically were a leading candidate, as the programming was easy and the commissions high. But the market – passengers on a flight without their lodging already booked – was miniscule. Selling tours and experiences should expand the addressable market, though per transaction revenue is likely lower.
And, ultimately, if the utility via the messaging service is not compelling then the number of users who even see the other stuff will be low. The financial risk there is very real.
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Making the LEO connection
Fflya is the first commercial airline connectivity solution to take advantage of low earth orbit satellites. The company’s offering leverages the Iridium NEXT constellation and its 66 LEO satellites to offer connectivity anywhere on the globe. This also means a tiny, “patch” antenna that sits in an aircraft window rather than the massive kit mounted atop the fuselage typically associated with satellite-based internet connections.
The delay in deployment also means AS-IP can update to the newer Certus version of the Iridium offering, with more bandwidth available in the same footprint.
The smaller solution also comes with an implementation cost an order of magnitude lower. And while it is a very, very different level of performance from the system, that could still be enough to address an airline’s needs.
This same Iridium network is used by AirFi for its LEO connectivity solution. Lufthansa Systems backed away from a similar architecture in early 2019. It is not generally seen as a replacement for full in-flight connectivity on commercial aircraft, but that’s OK. Iridium does not really want that anyways.
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