Inflight connectivity lifts off for Latin America as Avianca selects GX Aviation and Inmarsat as service provider
Inmarsat’s next generation service helps drive the Colombian carrier’s digital future
The Colombian airline Avianca is the first carrier in Latin America to make its aircraft available for the provision by Inmarsat of GX Aviation. The deal will see Inmarsat’s next generation inflight broadband service installed on all of Avianca’s Airbus A320, A330 and Boeing 787 fleets.
“The reason this is so important is that it is the first win for Inmarsat and GX in the Americas,” says Raymundo Villar, Inmarsat’s Regional Director for Latin America.
The deal is interesting for a number of reasons. Currently, some US airlines such as Delta and American offer IFC on flights to South American destinations. So, now Inmarsat will offer full IFC to Avianca’s passengers. Globally, Lufthansa already runs the service, and Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines and others have also signed up to GX Aviation.
Hernán Rincón, Chief Executive Officer of Avianca, says the agreement with Inmarsat will benefit both airline and passengers: “Today, technology is one of Avianca’s fundamental pillars. Therefore, and to allow our travellers to be always connected, we have signed an agreement that will allow us to continue advancing in our digital transformation with the support of Inmarsat.”
It’s notable that Rincón was CEO of Microsoft Latin America before moving to Avianca. He recently suggested that the airline would become a digital company that “happens to transport passengers.” This is very much in keeping with the widespread industry view that IFC is the key part of aviation digitisation.
The deal is also important for Latin America. Until now, the continent has lagged behind other regions with IFC, particularly North America, where it’s widespread. However, this may actually be an advantage. It means that, over the next few years, Avianca airlines’ planes will be fitted with GX Aviation. This is a faster, more reliable form of IFC than the first-generation solutions that many North American airlines currently use. Fliers using these older technologies will have to wait for the next upgrade cycle to experience GX. This kind of “second-mover advantage” is common with technological innovations.
The Avianca agreement is a big boost for Inmarsat too. As Villar says, it’s Inmarsat’s first toe-hold in the Americas and should allow the company to showcase the difference between itself and its competitors. Inmarsat is the only IFC provider which owns and operates a proprietary global satellite network and whose sole focus is connectivity for aviation. This makes for far greater flexibility, more capacity, fewer drop-outs and customer confidence in the future of the service.
Here it’s worth asking if Latin America is a very different market to North America, Europe or Asia. “It’s true the region has a lot of emerging economies but the consumer behaviour is the same as you see in Europe, Asia or even North America,” says Villar.
Business passengers, he adds, are much like their counterparts the world over. They’re used to regular travel and operating one or more electronic devices. But even people who are flying for the first time will already own smartphones. “For them the airline will just be continuing the experience they already have on the ground.” Moreover, Latin America is a key growth market over the next decade.
The capabilities Avianca will gain will be exactly the same as GX Aviation offers in Europe and the Middle East as it’s a global service – flyers will be able to browse the web, shop, send emails, stream live sporting events and use social media. “Inmarsat offers the flexibility to accommodate the different models for the benefit of the passengers,” explains Villar.
Villar adds that, as the first mover in its market, Avianca will offer a real differentiator to potential passengers. “Market surveys we’ve done all suggest that passengers in Latin America will choose an airline based on whether they have proper Wi-Fi or not.”
One of the world’s oldest airlines (founded in December 1919) Avianca is based in Bogotá with its main hub in the city’s El Dorado International Airport. The airline directly services over 100 destinations across 28 countries. Through its Star Alliance membership, it facilitates 18,500 daily departures with passengers accessing 98% per cent of the world’s countries. Last year it carried 29.4m passengers.