The next generation of Boeing aircraft now has an option for inflight connectivity installed at the factory. Global Eagle announced today that its Airconnect 3.0 hardware is certified for installation on new aircraft during the final assembly process at the Renton, Washington plant. The company expects to take advantage of that certification almost immediately, with plans for “several” airlines to be flying with the kit later this year according to GEE.
— Jennifer Schuld (@JenSchuld) March 16, 2017
The GEE kit was also the first to be installed on a 737MAX plane, flying on a test aircraft to the Farnborough Air Show in 2016. That was also the Airconnect 3.0 but the current version has some incremental improvements, such as an updated modem supporting higher total throughput.
Getting to a line-fit offering is an incredibly challenging process but one that is usually well rewarded. Airlines often prefer systems to be installed at the factory rather than after taking delivery of the aircraft as it reduces the time to put a plane in service. It also can improve the secondary market value of a plane since the alteration was managed by the manufacturer rather than as a secondary operation.
“Being the first Wi-Fi connectivity solution to be linefit on the 737 MAX benefits airlines and passengers,” said Per Norén, Global Eagle Senior Vice President, Aviation. “Not only does it provide substantial time- and cost-saving benefits to airlines, it also allows them to quickly offer passengers the most complete travel experience with the latest technology.”
The secondary market issue is especially pressing for lessors. If the plane must be returned to the “naked” configuration as part of the post-lease process the costs and time out of service can be massive. Some of the earliest Norwegian aircraft that were fitted with an older GEE solution and then returned from their lease had thousands of rivets holding the radome structure in place. Pulling that off meant replacing a section of the fuselage, not an easy process.
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As for deliveries with the new system installed, one obvious customer is Southwest Airlines. While the company is transitioning to include Panasonic Avionics as a connectivity supplier – the first converted plane is due out this month – the early MAX deliveries will come with the GEE system still. All of the early Southwest/Panasonic planes will be retrofits. Another existing GEE customer and 737MAX early delivery player is flyDubai. That is a reasonably likely candidate for a line-fit install, though not yet confirmed. And the first flyDubai 737MAXen do not have radomes installed. At this time GEE only offered up that “several MAX customers that will be flying our systems, though they are not yet announced.”
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Other early 737MAX deliveries include Norwegian, a GEE customer but the MAX connectivity is presumed to be going to Inmarsat‘s GX platform supported by Rockwell Collins; GEE previously acknowledged that the current contract doesn’t cover the Norwegian MAX planes. American Airlines committed its MAX fleet to ViaSat and GOL is a Gogo 2Ku customer today. WestJet is a PAC customer while Lion Air and Batik currently do not offer connectivity.
Header Image: 737MAX with the radome on top by John Crowley via Flickr/CC BY-SA; cropped/annotated.
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