The first Wizz Air plane with in-flight connectivity entered service last week. But this is not a typical internet connection on a plane. Powered by fflya from ASIP Tech, the service approaches the very concept of on-board internet from a different perspective. And the implementation shows that difference
To see it flying and being enjoyed by passengers is a great reward for the incredible work of the ASIP Team. The benefits fflya will create especially for the Low-Cost Airline sector and their passengers, will only enhance this unique service.– ASIP Tech President Ron Chapman
The fflya offering does not use WiFi on board. Rather, passengers connect to the system via Bluetooth. This is not a typical kit that allows unfettered browsing or even streaming content. Messaging services for passengers is the key use case, and the limited bandwidth available can pull that off without much trouble.
As ASIP Tech President Ron Chapman sees it, fflya’s massively lower capital and operating costs finally allow even the most cost-conscious airlines to address a passenger’s ever more pressing concern: “Why do I have to pay for connectivity on airlines?” And for LCCs, skipping the high capital expense for the install is a nice win.
Whether the free service is what passengers actually want remains to be seen.
Operational benefits galore
Hyping the passenger benefits of the fflya solution likely misses the key value proposition for an airline. The potential operational and back-office benefits could prove dramatic, even on a very, very lightweight connection link.
Payment processing is an important low-hanging fruit to secure. And it is easily addressed over the small connection. For a carrier with a significant in-flight sales operation, reducing the fraud and increasing the average transaction size likely covers the cost of the implementation.
Other maintenance needs can be similarly transmitted on the limited bandwidth. Weather and other critical operational data can also traverse that pipe without interrupting the other activities or incurring significant bandwidth costs.
Indeed, the company touts the eco-friendly advantages of the six kilogram solution based on its ability to deliver a connected flight deck solution. Live operational or weather data updates can help an airline optimize flight paths and reduce fuel burn
Airlines won’t be able to offload gigabytes of aircraft monitoring data from every flight nor can they update the IFE content over the air. But those are much lower priority, particularly for implementations such as the WizzAir trial.
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 implementation cost comes in 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.
ASIP is not the only company pursuing the Iridium LEO network for IFC backhaul. AirFi announced a deal in 2018 to fit an Iridium antenna on Faroese carrier Atlantic Airways’ fleet. That took a delay owing to various issues, but earlier this year AirFi CEO Job Heimerikx suggested it would be operational just as soon as the teams could get back to traveling and complete the flight validation of the antenna hardware and connectivity to the Iridium network.
And, similar to the fflya offering with WizzAir, AirFi expects the back office benefits to make the business case. “The most important application right now is payments validation and sending orders to the ground,” Heimerikx explains. “We see that payment validation is a very important element to deliver a sustainable, profit-making solution from day one. And then passenger messaging is a nice bonus, but the system pays for itself.”
The AirFi option uses traditional WiFi connections in the cabin, however, which does open additional options for passenger-focused services beyond basic messaging and portal-driven shopping that fflya enables.
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