Gulf Air, based out of Bahrain and one of the largest airlines in the Middle East, aims to be one of the most progressive in terms of providing in-flight entertainment and connectivity services. The airline is going one step further than most by offering live TV as part of its overall service to passengers and could become a showcase for some of the most innovative in-flight entertainment services around. Samer Majali, CEO, talks about why the airline has decided to adopt such a bold strategy in terms of providing these services to passengers.
VIA SATELLITE: What is the significance of Gulf Air’s deal with Panasonic Avionics?
Majali: This particular deal with Panasonic was very important. We are the first airline in the world to install this particular hardware and software. There are three main benefits to the customer. The first one is mobile telephony and SMS, and the ability to use GPRS to access Internet on smartphones. The second is broadband Internet, which allows you to access whatever services you want, including social media. And third, for the first time in the world, you have live TV. We are offering four channels, initially starting with sports and news channels.
VIA SATELLITE: How many channels will you look to offer in the future?
Majali: We will start with four. The providers are planning within the next 12 months to add another four channels, so there will be a total of eight channels. But there is no limitation. It is about coming to an agreement with others to broadcast on airplanes. For us, it is about trying to select a TV channel that has the broadest range of interested audience on-board.
VIA SATELLITE: What is the return on investment for Gulf Air on such services?
Majali: We are the first to offer live TV over the land and international waters using Ku-band satellite technology, and definitely one of the first airlines to offer this range of products (telephony, broadband and live TV) across continents on a global basis. From a financial perspective, there are some things here to point out. We do get some returns from the usage of the service, particularly the broadband Internet and the telephony service. That goes partially to pay back the cost of equipment during a period of time. The rest of the payback comes from the investment in our brand and product, and encouraging people to fly on Gulf Air. We also want to encourage our frequent flyers and the people that use Gulf Air to continue to use Gulf Air, as we continue to upgrade our products. So there is a direct and indirect financial impact to recover the investment that we made.