In-flight connectivity in Europe is set to grow significantly starting in 2017. Both SAS and Finnair announced deal with ViaSat earlier this month to fit their short-haul fleets with the provider’s Ka-band solution, offering passengers high speed service on regional flights. ViaSat does not operate its own satellite in Europe; it will take advantage of coverage provided by partner Eutelsat to serve these two new customers.
Both airlines will receive essentially the same solution installed on board, boasting ViaSat’s 12 megabit/second/passenger number (based on variable demand, not consistently that much capacity to the plane) and the ability to stream content, work or play online. SAS will use the system to provide connectivity to its flight crews as well thanks to the company’s iPad Mini deployment for cabin attendants. SAS expects the service to be free for its EuroBonus members or SAS Plus ticket holders. Finnair currently has wifi available on its all its A350s and is installing it on the A330s. Adding coverage on the short-haul fleet will allow for travelers to remain connected end-to-end, though across different providers which could present challenges for the user experience, something other multi-vendor carriers have struggled with to date. The carrier currently provides wifi for free to business class and top-tier members in its loyalty program; it is unclear if that pricing will hold for the new installs.
The combined deals represent fitting of nearly 140 aircraft with high-speed connectivity and a service footprint covering all of the routes those aircraft fly (possibly limited coverage for the Azores and Canary Islands). It is a huge boost to ViaSat’s order backlog and comes at a time when that backlog was looking rather thin; the company has ~20 El Al aircraft left to fit and incremental new deliveries from United Airlines and JetBlue (serviced via Thales in a relationship that appears to be fracturing). The new orders, with installs set to begin in mid-2017, will let the company add tails to its fleet and do so without pressuring its US network which is heavily subscribed at this point.
The deals also show promise for the Eutelsat partnership, a two year old relationship that had previously produced relatively little in the way of useful crossover for the companies to date. And even as more European carriers are now committed in terms of connectivity for their short-haul fleet there are still a few big potential wins to be had.
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