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.
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.
Tail mount antenna is too small
Tail not ideal for some/larger aircraft.
Good: flat antenna
— Peter Lemme (@Satcom_Guru) September 12, 2017
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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