APAC inflight broadband demand hits new heights

Passengers’ digital lifestyles drive a wave of innovative connectivity across Asia-Pacific aviation

It’s been another busy 12 months in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) connectivity life cycle. The region’s hunger for inflight Wi-Fi shows no sign of diminishing as passengers push their ‘always-on’ lives centre stage.

Across this diverse territory, Inmarsat’s next-generation broadband service GX Aviation has been installed on a wide range of different aircraft, from Airbus A320s to Boeing 777s, and the Airbus A380 superjumbo. Indeed, GX Aviation has emerged as the flagship inflight broadband solution for airlines across the APAC region. Inmarsat customers include AirAsia, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand.

One of the most significant events of 2019 has been the first commercial AirAsia flight equipped with GX Aviation. That’s not all. Philippine Airlines has equipped its long-haul fleet with the award-winning Internet service. Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways and Taiwanese airline Starlux, have also chosen GX.

In confirmation that the region remains one of Inmarsat’s key markets, there have also been noteworthy developments at Singapore Airlines and Aircalin. In September 2019, Singapore’s flag carrier airline hosted the world’s first SITAONAIR live television broadcast on a commercial airliner when Sky Sports accompanied the Formula 1 Alfa Romeo team – all thanks to the dynamic capabilities of GX Aviation. Over in the French territory of New Caledonia, high-speed broadband is now available on two of Aircalin’s A330neos.

But before we round up all of the news across the region, Inmarsat’s Regional Vice President Aviation APAC, Chris Rogerson, gives his overview of the market.

What are the current trends in APAC?

The key development at present is the increasing inbound and outbound travel into the region. This is in line with the growth of a sizeable middle class who are keen to travel. According to Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index (GDCI) 2018, Asia Pacific destinations made up half of the world’s top 10 most visited cities. Furthermore, the region also saw four cities figure in the top 10 cities for highest visitor spend. The region’s international popularity as a destination remains undimmed.

Indeed, the biggest driver of demand for aviation is the APAC region. IATA data suggests that APAC will be the source of more than half of the new passengers over the next two decades, with China forecast to displace the US as the world’s largest aviation market. Additional data provided by IATA show that that in 2018 APAC airlines led the way in passenger growth, with a 9.5% increase in passenger numbers.

Digital has also become an essential part of everyday life for many in Asia-Pacific. According to the We Are Digital's Digital in 2019 report, Asia-Pacific is home to four of the top 10 countries when it comes to daily internet usage (measured by time) – the Philippines topping the chart. And only Southern Asia (at 42%) falls below the global internet penetration rate of 57%.

When Asia-Pacific’s ‘always on’ passengers bring their handsets and laptops onto flights, this rich data enables airlines to better understand their passengers and their needs. This in turn can help airlines build better brand loyalty.

What opportunities does inflight Wi-Fi unlock?

In the next 20 years, it’s predicted that there will be 37,000 new aircraft put into service to meet this huge growth in passengers. APAC will lead the way accounting for 40% of these aircraft – with the number of aircraft across the region set to triple. Satcom will be needed for communications, navigation and surveillance for many of these aircraft.

Satcom-connected aircraft can communicate with air traffic control more efficiently. This has led to a reduction in separation standards between planes. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) recently recommended to its member states new separation standards of 20 nautical miles longitude and 12 nautical miles latitude.

Allowing planes to fly closer together over the ocean – both vertically and horizontally – not only means increasing the number of aircraft in a given airspace, it also enables a range of operational efficiencies. Satcom connectivity can transform the aircraft into a virtual weather centre. Indeed, better weather intelligence can help save global fuel burn and suggest the most efficient routes when turbulence or suchlike is a factor.

A 2017 study by Helios and Inmarsat identified that satellite communications, such as Classic Aero, have saved airlines $3bn over the past 15 years and those savings are expected to increase dramatically with SwiftBroadband-Safety. A natural evolution of Classic Aero services, it offers a step change in capabilities for operations and safety.

A multi billion dollar airline opportunity

A study carried out by London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), in association with Inmarsat, found that inflight broadband will be a $130bn market by 2035 and airlines will generate an additional $30bn in incremental revenue. The research also identified that inflight broadband has the potential to unlock a $52bn market within Asia Pacific by 2035.

Alongside the ‘make money and save money’ message of the first two chapters of the LSE’s Sky High Economics reports, the third and final chapter of the survey has uncovered a pressing new commercial imperative to implement high-speed, high quality Wi-Fi – passenger behaviour and loyalty.

The report has identified a global market of close to 450m passengers who are both uncommitted to any airline loyalty programme and are willing to switch whatever carrier allegiance they currently have in favour of high quality inflight Internet. In monetary terms, an annual $33bn market is waiting to be secured by airlines that are willing to offer the Wi-Fi experience these 450m passengers are looking for.

Over the last year or so we’ve seen that it’s not just long-haul operators that have embraced inflight Wi-Fi, it’s short-haul and low-cost carriers like Citilink that have got involved too. Why do you think this is?

Initially connectivity was considered by many to be predominantly a long-haul priority. From the passenger Wi-Fi standpoint, this is due to extended journey times and the better potential returns on investment it would seem to bring. More hours in the air means more time online, in other words. Now, however, short-haul operators are seeing the many benefits that seamless broadband provides for them too.

LCC capacity within Asia-Pacific has more than quadrupled over the past decade. LCCs generated approximately 570 million seats within Asia-Pacific last year, compared to fewer than 130 million in 2008, according to CAPA and OAG data. 

Air Asia Aircraft

This demand for Wi-Fi in short-haul could be driven by the fact that, in many ways, short-haul is like a daily commute, where checking your phone on the way to work is commonplace.

So while long-haul passengers are more organised travellers – they’ll plan to watch several films on the IFE system, for example – it could be argued that short-haul’s commuting mind-set means that those passengers will expect to be able to continue their online life while flying, just as they would on a bus or a train.

With every short-haul airline competing on price, inflight Wi-Fi offers airlines a point of difference.

Inflight Internet doesn’t just allow passengers to work or check their social feeds in flight – it can also provide a number of data opportunities for airlines and become a platform for innovation. As airlines gather richer passenger data through inflight Wi-Fi, they can better personalise their service and offerings.

Do certain pricing models – free, paid, sponsored etc – suit a certain band of airline?

There is no ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to pricing or partnerships.

Given the breadth of models currently operating, the coming months and years will reveal whether an industry-wide cost structure emerges, making it easier for passengers to compare like-for-like.

Asian low-cost carrier Citilink, for instance, believes a free model is best for driving passenger loyalty and satisfaction. Citilink’s move is the latest evidence that it’s both possible and economically viable for LCCs to match premium flag carriers when it comes to free inflight Internet.

Is passenger demand for connectivity in APAC changing?

Demand for inflight Wi-Fi is driving airline loyalty and customer satisfaction among passengers in Asia-Pacific. The desire to get online is particularly strong in this region, where according to our latest Inflight Connectivity Passenger Survey, three quarters of travellers (72%) who had access to inflight Wi-Fi in the past year chose to use it – the highest of any region globally.

Based on the 2018 survey, inflight Wi-Fi is now considered the second most important factor for passengers in Asia-Pacific when choosing an airline, behind only brand reputation.

Alongside this, 70% of passengers in APAC would be likely to recommend inflight Wi-Fi having tried it previously and 78% of passengers would be more likely to rebook with an airline if high quality inflight Wi-Fi were available.

In short, there is clear, strong demand across APAC to get online while in the sky.

How is GX Aviation suited to Asia Pacific aviation?

Inmarsat is pioneering an exciting step-change in global connectivity that will transform capabilities within the aviation industry, both in the cockpit and in the cabin. GX Aviation, for example, is the world’s first inflight broadband solution with seamless, reliable high-speed global coverage provided through a single operator. This allows passengers to browse the internet, stream videos, check social media and more during flights, just like they do on the ground.

Inmarsat is the world’s only provider of satellite connectivity to the whole aircraft, including inflight Wi-Fi for passengers, and the world’s most advanced operational safety in the cockpit.

Unlike other solutions, GX Aviation is a bespoke build that meets the needs of airlines and their passengers today – the result of Inmarsat’s unmatched experience as a connectivity service provider to more than 200 airlines worldwide.

GX is also future-proofed. As demand grows, so will capacity. Just this year, Inmarsat signed a deal with Airbus to develop its GX network to power GX Aviation for airlines through Inmarsat’s newest fleet of satellites, breaking new ground for inflight Wi-Fi. As part of the deal, the three satellites – GX7, 8 & 9 – which are scheduled to launch from 2023, will enable airline and business aviation customers to benefit from the satellites’ real-time mobility and thousands of dynamically formed beams that can direct capacity with laser-like precision over high-demand areas.

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AirAsia

A bold and innovative new digital offering for passengers

The commercial rollout of GX Aviation in September 2019 was noteworthy for a number of reasons. Primarily, it meant that airline CEO Tony Fernandes’ goal of developing the innovative low-cost carrier into a comprehensive digital operation took another giant step forward.

The seamless integration of GX Aviation with ROKKI, AirAsia’s inflight entertainment and Internet platform, means that passengers will receive a significant upgrade to their inflight experience. They’ll be able to access a variety of free entertainment, music, games, news and shopping – all from the convenience of their personal mobile devices.

And while enhancing passenger experience is a must for all carriers in these competitive times, Fernandes reveals that using the data accrued from its digital operation will improve every part of the airline.

“[It’s about]… using the data and using the ability to communicate with our guests,” he said. “Not just on the ground… now with Inmarsat we are able to do it in the air and we’re able to use data to transact better with our customers.”

This digitisation of AirAsia and its ongoing partnership with Inmarsat was also welcomed by Inmarsat Aviation President, Philip Balaam, who spoke of AirAsia’s “bold and innovative new digital offering for passengers.”

“We are confident that AirAsia’s upgrade from basic Wi-Fi to the industry’s gold standard inflight broadband will be warmly embraced by passengers,” he said. “Our teams continue to work closely together to install GX Aviation on the rest of AirAsia’s fleet of Airbus A320 and A300 aircraft, making it available to millions of new passengers each month.”

Philippine Airlines

Enhancing the total passenger experience while achieving operational efficiency

In April, the Filipino flag carrier, via Inmarsat partner SITAONAIR, activated GX Aviation onboard its new-generation aircraft. Passengers on its long-haul US, Canadian and London flights now enjoy seamless, reliable high-speed global coverage.

With characteristic foresight, inflight Wi-Fi has emerged as a calling card for the airline as it strives to achieve Skytrax’s coveted 5-Star Airline rating.

Philippine Airline’s (PAL) President and Chief Operating Officer, Jaime Bautista commented: “We are taking our inflight passenger experience to the next level with SITAONAIR’s connectivity services over the high-speed capabilities of GX Aviation. We have high hopes that our partnership will help us achieve our mission of enhancing the total passenger experience while achieving operational efficiency.”

In addition, improved Wi-Fi installation techniques have seen the time PAL aircraft spend on the ground – a challenge for all airlines – reduce by up to 70%. Previously, installing inflight connectivity services typically took about 15 days per aircraft to complete, but SITAONAIR achieved GX Aviation installation for Philippine Airways in just four days per aircraft.

All Nippon Airways

We are delighted that it has selected our gold standard inflight broadband

Inmarsat’s expansion into APAC continued with the addition of Japan’s biggest airline All Nippon Airways (ANA).

At September’s APEX EXPO in Los Angeles, the carrier confirmed that it had begun upgrading its fleet of Boeing 777-300ER aircraft with GX Aviation. This will be offered through SITAONAIR’s Internet ONAIR Wi-Fi portal.

Chris Rogerson applauded the deal with ANA, stating that installing the world’s best inflight Wi-Fi service chimed with the airline’s world-class reputation. “ANA is renowned for offering a market-leading experience onboard its aircraft and we are delighted that it has selected our gold standard inflight broadband, GX Aviation, for the Boeing 777-300ER fleet. We continue to work closely with the airline and our partner SITAONAIR to rollout the service.”

Starlux Airlines

GX Aviation will deliver the consistent and high-speed connection necessary for a top-flight travel experience

It’s not just established airlines that recognise the transformative value of game-changing inflight broadband. Ahead of its commercial launch next year (2020), Taiwanese start-up carrier, Starlux Airlines, chose to bring inflight Wi-Fi to its passengers via GX Aviation.

The carrier will deploy SITAONAIR’s award-winning Internet ONAIR Wi-Fi portal – powered by Link ONAIR over the GX Aviation satellite network – on its A321neos and A350s.

Serving both Asian and North American long-haul routes, the airline is focusing on both the business and leisure markets. It aims to meet ever exacting passenger demands with a set of tailored, premium inflight Internet offers.

“We are excited by what is taking shape,” its President Glenn Chai commented. “And are certain that Internet ONAIR over GX Aviation will deliver the consistent and high-speed connection necessary for a top-flight travel experience.”

Singapore Airlines

Showcasing the capability of Inmarsat services when combined with our partners

As more and more airlines across APAC begin to embrace the potential of high-speed, seamless inflight Internet, one of Inmarsat’s long-standing customers in the region – Singapore Airlines – demonstrated the importance of an ‘always-on’, reliable broadband solution.

Before 2019’s Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, Singapore Airlines became the world’s first airline to host a live television broadcast onboard a commercial airliner using SITAONAIR’s Internet ONAIR portal, powered by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation.

Travelling with the Alfa Romeo team on flight SQ346 from Zurich to Singapore, Sky Sports’ Craig Slater reported from live from the plane, interviewing the team on the way to the Singapore Grand Prix.

SITAONAIR’s Commercial Regional VP Asia-Pacific, Katrina Korzenowski, highlighted the pioneering nature of transmitting a live broadcast from 35,000 feet in the sky.

She said: “The event is a testament to SIA’s dedication to outstanding passenger experience, as well as SITAONAIR’s ever-evolving work with Inmarsat to provide highly reliable, advanced inflight Internet to airlines throughout the globe.”

Inmarsat Aviation’s Channel Director, Martin Kroepl, was also buoyed by the broadcast. Congratulating SITAONAIR and Singapore Airlines for this momentous event, he said: “Inmarsat is glad to have a partner like SITAONAIR who is continuously enabling airlines to provide the best passenger experience and pushing boundaries for inflight Internet. We hope to see many more events like this live interview that showcase the capability of Inmarsat services when combined with the value adds from our partners.”

Aircalin

Our passengers are increasingly demanding ‘at home’ internet capability during flights

A lot can happen in a year for an airline. At the tail end of 2018, Aircalin announced that it had chosen Inmarsat’s next-generation inflight Wi-Fi solution, GX Aviation, to power its partner SITAONAir’s InternetONAIR portal.

Less than 12 months later and passengers and crew alike now receive high-speed broadband on two of the airline’s A330neos.

Based in the South-West Pacific in the French territory of New Caledonia, the news has been welcomed by passengers who demand ‘always on’ Wi-Fi on the popular tourist routes to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands.

Said its CEO Didier Tappero: “Our passengers are increasingly demanding ‘at home’ internet capability during flights, so that they can carry on with their digital lives without interruption. And SITAONAIR’s GX Aviation-enabled Internet ONAIR provides Aircalin passengers with remarkable connectivity.”

Air New Zealand

In April 2019, Air New Zealand became one of the first airlines globally to offer free Wi-fi on long-haul flights. The carrier has GX live on 23 of their planes including B787, B777s, A320s and A321 Neos covering both long-haul and domestic routes. Installations of GX are continuing in 2021 with another 21 planes due for retrofit.

Since launching free Wi-Fi to customers, Air New Zealand has seen a dramatic jump in passenger uptake of 38% on average across all flights. With long-haul customers, uptake increases to 50%.

Passenger usage is growing with the award-winning airline due to record one million users of its Wi-Fi service by the end of 2019.