So, here’s a theory: United Airlines might be poised to add live television content to hundreds of aircraft currently fitted with the Panasonic Avionics (PAC) Ku-band inflight wifi service. It is just a theory, but I think there’s a decent chance based on conversations I’ve had in recent weeks and months with various vendors, including a pointed conversation a couple weeks ago at the Paris Air Show. The broader details of that conversation are shared in this Runway Girl Network story but for the sake of the United discussion I think there are a couple specifics to consider.
- We know that United Airlines is poised to be the first airline customer to receive new modems from Panasonic and Newtec. These new modems support simultaneous communications over a wide beam and spot beam connection from the same satellite, meaning higher data speeds (spot beams) and potentially TV (wide beams) through the single antenna already on the top of the plane.
- Panasonic expects to double the number of Live TV-fitted planes by the end of the year from the current number of ~650. United has about 400 planes with the PAC Ku-band system (~150x A320 family, ~50x 757 family, ~50x 767 family, ~90x 777 family, ~30x 787 family). And that’s the largest single pool of PAC customer aircraft without the live TV product flying today. It doesn’t complete the move to double the fitted fleet but it helps a lot.
- The new HTS satellites over North America have the increased capacity to easily and (more) affordably support the TV needs. As more airlines subscribe to the service on the same satellites the price per aircraft comes down since they’re all pulling the same data. PAC is committed to delivering the product to Southwest Airlines so adding United on is relatively cheap given that most planes are flying under the same satellites.
- United already has live television on most of the 737 fleet so fitting the others would be seen as unifying the product, something that the company can brag about as a service improvement.
There are also plenty of reasons to consider that United won’t be doing this. Namely that the numbers don’t really match up to what PAC is anticipating and that it costs money to add services like this.
Also, while my awesome image shows it possibly on the embedded IFE screens there’s also a chance it is only going to happen for the streaming devices platform. Just depends on how the airline and PAC would implement it all.
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