Inflight connectivity remains a stumbling block in CRJ evolution


This story is produced in partnership with PaxEx.Aero - The Business of Passenger Experience


As Bombardier seeks to revitalize its CRJ product line the new Atmosphere cabin retrofit is a nice upgrade. But while the company has a solution in place for most of the passenger experience improvements it expects to implement, one major sticking point remains: Inflight connectivity.

A significant part of the Bombardier CRJ Atmosphere cabin refresh is improving inflight connectivity. Alas, it isn't all there yet.
A significant part of the Bombardier CRJ Atmosphere cabin refresh is improving inflight connectivity. Alas, it isn’t all there yet.

Bombardier acknowledges that the larger CRJs are flying longer routes than ever before and that for some passengers and airlines this requires updated technology solutions on board. The Atmosphere cabin expects to address those needs. The cabin will be wired to deliver in-seat power by default, for example. It will also support wifi connectivity, though the options there remain somewhat challenging. VP Marketing Patrick Baudis suggests that, at least to start, the connectivity market is reasonably well served through on-board streaming and existing ATG solutions.

On the connectivity side, we’re watching what the market wants, what the airlines will want. A lot of airlines today are thinking that they are okay for those flights that are short-haul to have just in-flight wifi [i.e. streaming media, not real connectivity]. They don’t see a pressing need from their passengers at the moment to get further connectivity.



Yes, a decent number of the CRJ700 and CRJ900s are flying in Europe and Asia where inflight connectivity is less consistently delivered. But Delta Air Lines and American Airlines both have significant numbers of the type operating in their fleet; Air Canada has a few, too. Those planes serve in markets where passengers are more familiar with inflight connectivity and expect it to be offered. They also typically see the type flying longer routes than the 500 mile range Bombardier uses for many of its marketing comparisons.

Read More: A new Atmosphere: Can the CRJ become sexy?

Yes, there is an ATG connectivity option for the planes in the North America market thanks to the Gogo ATG platform, but with 70-90 seats on board the ATG network often comes up short to serving that demand. Maybe NextGen ATG is the answer but that’s not yet flying. We know that satellite solutions can deliver more bandwidth but fitting an efficient antenna on a smaller jet is terribly hard.



Embraer has an option for satellite connectivity on its 100-seat model; that’s flying today with JetBlue and Thales/ViaSat. Bombardier has an option for the CSeries, with Gogo 2Ku set to be a line-fit option for Delta’s deliveries starting in 2018. But making a similar solution fit on the smaller CRJ fuselage is a challenge that the industry is not yet ready to deliver on. And Bombardier knows that.

The question will be working with suppliers to get antenna systems that will fit on the plane to serve that purpose. From an airplane standpoint we will be equipped, we will be ready. The technology is now almost there to get antennas that fit on the plane.

That’s a high level of optimism in the evolution of antenna systems, one that might not be supported by reality in the near term. But at least Bombardier is aware of the challenges and continues to work with vendors in search of solutions.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

7 Comments

  1. It’s kind of amazing how much effort Bombardier has invested in trying to solve issues created by the too-narrow CRJ fuselage over the years. I wonder if anyone there actually regrets not going with an all new fuselage design when extending beyond 50 seats like Embraer did? I know most of us passengers certainly consider their decision to be a poor one.

    1. Fortunately it’s pretty rare I’m on anything smaller than a 717. I think I made it through all of 2016 without flying anything smaller than a 717 on DL – and this year, I made it until just a few weeks ago. Since August 1 I’ve had a couple of CR7s and one CR9, but that’s it.

    2. In 2007 or 2008, almost half my flights were on CRJ’s of one kind or another (mostly on US feeders out of DCA). When I did the stats at the end of the year, I foreswore it thereafter.

    3. I had my share of those years – 2005 all the way until around 2012 I was pretty heavy on 50 seat RJs (mostly ERJ-145s) and turboprops. 2005-2010 I had a steady stream of clients in locations where it was all ERJ, all the time, and a few in places that were solely Saab 340 destinations. So, I got plenty of time on those planes, to the extent that one year I earned CO Platinum on SEGMENTS solely off my ERJ/prop flying. It has been a nice change to be pretty much all mainline all the time the past three years. I’ve not set foot on an ERJ-145 since late July 2014, and the only CRJ-200s I’ve flown since August 2014 were a pair of UAEX ones on SFO-RNO-SFO in May 2016. Otherwise, I’ve been free of the curse of 50 seat RJs.

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