With OnAir Plug, In-Flight Wi-Fi Becomes as Useful to Airlines as It Is Attractive to Passengers

OnAir has introduced its new OnAir Plug service at the APEX Expo in Anaheim this week.  The connectivity supplier, which also provides wireless IFE On-Demand solutions to airlines, has taken one step further in making connectivity pay for itself.

The new OnAir Plug product provides inflight Internet access to the airline over a secured wireless network which allows the aircraft to exchange real-time data between cabin crew and the ground.  It can also connect the airline’s point of sale devices to make onboard retail less risky to airlines by providing real-time credit card transactions.

This is the first major step in unleashing the full potential of the e-Aircraft,” said Ian Dawkins, CEO of OnAir. “Our strong presence in the inflight connectivity market has given us a very solid platform to be the first mover for connected crews.”

Dawkins added, “A secure connectivity channel is the first significant step towards enabling a “Nose-to-Tail” communications channel for airline operational needs.  When fully realized, the e-Aircraft will give airlines increased operational control by providing real-time data to improve airlines’ decision-making. Among other e-Aircraft benefits, airlines will have enriched applications that enhance flight, ground and business operations, superior aircraft health monitoring, access to live Electronic Flight Bag data, improved maintenance reporting, and secured data storage. And this is only the beginning.”

Philippine Airlines has become the launch customer for OnAir Plug.  The airline is also the first in the world to offer mobile connectivity (voice and text), Wi-Fi In-Flight Connectivity and wireless In-Flight Entertainment to their passengers.

“OnAir helped us lead the way with our wireless inflight entertainment system. We are very excited about OnAir Plug both in what it will enable us to do in the future and the myriad opportunities it presents us, as an airline keen to leverage the e-Aircraft,” said Ana Leah V. Rodriguez, Head of Marketing and Ancillary Sales, Philippine Airlines.

This e-Aircraft development is a collaboration between OnAir and SITA.  SITA’s Gregory Ouillon explained the benefits of e-Aircraft nose-to-tail solutions at this year’s SITA Summit, and speaks on the topic in this SITA video:

Why Should Passengers Care?

Connected aircraft, maintained and communicating in real-time, offer an enhancement of flight safety.  There is a high standard of safety for aircraft which aren’t connected, but this year’s disappearance of MH370 has highlighted the need for better communications options between aircraft and airline operations–including features like enhanced flight tracking and the possibility of an emergency transmission of flight data from the black-box.  The industry is making progress in this area and recent developments in In-Flight Connectivity make that progress possible.

From a passenger-experience perspective, travellers are increasingly mobile and highly dependent on availability of a Wi-Fi connection wherever they go.  It’s well established that passengers are not eager to pay for these connections.  Skift has reported that 90% of US flyers rarely or never buy In-Flight Wi-Fi.  For airlines, who have to equip their aircraft with special radome antennae for connectivity, this unwillingness by passengers to pay for the service raises questions on affordability.  JetBlue’s high-speed FlyFi, powered by ViaSat, is popular because of its performance, but also because the airline is currently offering connectivity as a free service.  As a result, nearly 80% of the airline’s passengers use Fly-Fi on the airline’s long-haul flights.

New opportunities for ancillary revenue, by combining In-Flight Entertainment and In-Flight Connectivity, have also become hot topics this year.  The cost-reductions and enhanced airline operations from nose-to-tail connected aircraft, are another compelling business case prompting airlines to install connectivity solutions.  To put it simply, if airlines can benefit from Wi-Fi, then offering free access to a chunk of their Wi-Fi capacity, for goodwill, makes sense.

Competition in this market is fierce.  A number of attractive solutions are hitting the market at once, and the success of any of these in the long-term depends on how airlines can make them pay off.   Suppliers are divided between those who believe that Wi-Fi should inherently be free, and that there are better ways for airlines to make profit from it, and those who stand by their Wi-Fi revenue models, and enhance services to make their connectivity options competitive.  Airlines are split on what approach the take to their Wi-Fi services.  While some markets appear saturated, the global market still has a lot of room for growth.  Carriers, like Norwegian, have already decided that Free Wi-Fi is worth it–because of the goodwill it generates with passengers; but they won’t shrug off the cost-benefits and potential revenue from connected IFE retail.

We’ve become a connected society, and there is no going back.  When we travel, we expect to stay connected.  Airlines, like airports and hotels need to accommodate these needs.  With the variety of services, options, and solutions coming to the industry, airlines are spoiled for choice.  Now, they just have to decide, commit, and deliver.

Featured Image:  Passenger connects onboard Emirates’ A380 withOnAir Connectivity/Emirates

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