Panasonic Avionics Takes Off in 2011
[Satellite News 12-01-11] One of the in-flight connectivity market’s biggest success stories this year was Panasonic Avionics, as the company dramatically expanded its X-series service contract network. The global communication suite, which includes the Digital MPES overhead video system, eX2, eX3 and eFX products, generated considerable attention from commercial airlines looking to enhance international and domestic flight routes.
Panasonic’s eXConnect system was designed to provide two-way broadband connectivity to an aircraft, supporting a range of passenger and crew applications. In November alone, Panasonic Avionics landed contracts with two major airlines to equip approximately 500 aircraft combined. Etihad Airways contracted Panasonic Avionics on Nov. 17 to provide in-flight entertainment systems and in-flight connectivity, including broadband Internet and live TV, for the airline’s entire long-haul fleet of wide body aircraft during a period of 10 years. While the deal is currently being finalized, Panasonic said the approximate value of the contract should be more than $1 billion in list prices, as the deal also includes a full service maintenance contract.
Panasonic will co-develop a plan with Etihad Airways to deploy its eX2 and eX3 IFEC systems on 100 new aircraft, in addition to the 16 aircraft already equipped with the eX2 system. Etihad Airways will install the eX2 system on its new Airbus A380s, Boeing 787s and Boeing 777-300Ers, and will use Panasonic’s eX3 solution for its new Airbus A350 aircraft. The deal also includes the installation of Panasonic’s Global Communications Suite, which aims to provide in-flight broadband connectivity, mobile phone service and live television content.
Earlier in the month, Panasonic was selected by United Continental Holdings to provide Ku-band satellite-powered Wi-Fi connectivity in all cabins on more than 300 United Airlines and Continental Airlines aircraft beginning in mid-2012, representing a breakthrough for the highly valued U.S. market. United Continental will use Panasonic’s satellite air-to-ground technology (ATG) to provide connectivity on flights worldwide and to enable wireless streaming of video content. The service aims to enable airline customers to use wireless devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets onboard United Continental aircraft to connect with Internet service using in-flight hotspots. The airline group has scheduled its entire mainline fleet for Wi-Fi installation by 2015. This includes integration of the Panasonic system on Airbus 319 and 320 and Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 and 787 aircraft. Continental Airlines previously announced plans to install Wi-Fi on more than 200 DirecTV-equipped aircraft beginning in 2012.
“Our customers tell us they value Wi-Fi,” said United Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer Jim Compton. “As a global carrier, United is especially pleased that the Ku-band technology will enable customers to stay connected on longer overseas flights, something no other U.S.-based international carrier currently offers.”
In September, Panasonic finalized the agreement it announced in February 2011 with Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) to install its Ku-band eXConnect and eXPhone solutions on SAS’ fleet of domestic, pan-European and intercontinental aircraft. SAS was an early adopter of in-flight connectivity with Boeing’s Connexion service, which was shut down in 2006.
SAS will use the solution to provide in-flight broadband Internet access over Wi-Fi to passengers. The company’s eXPhone product, offered in collaboration with AeroMobile’s in-flight mobile phone service, allows SAS passengers to use their mobile and smartphone devices onboard to make and receive voice calls, send and receive SMS text messages and use GPRS Internet access. SAS plans on introducing the service to its passengers at the end of this year.
Panasonic also inked its deal with TAM Airlines in September, when it selected the company’s eX3 IFEC solution for linefit installation on 27 A350-900 aircraft. In addition, TAM Airlines also chose Panasonic’s eX2 IFEC solution for eight new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. Panasonic’s eX3 is the company’s 10th-generation IFEC solution. The unit is designed to deliver native broadband connectivity through an open platform architecture. TAM said it would use eX3 to leverage a business platform that helps drive brand loyalty, maximize revenue per available seat mile, and minimize cost per available seat mile.
“TAM was created 35 years ago with a commitment to satisfy its customers by offering high-quality, differentiated services at competitive prices. Panasonic’s platform allows us to offer the best in-flight entertainment and communications services, in-line with our business goals,” said TAM Airlines Business Unit Manager, Jose Racowski.
Panasonic first took notice in the satellite world back in 2008, when it licensed iDirect’s satellite IP router hardware and spread spectrum mobile waveform. The iDirect technology serves as core components of Panasonic’s eXConnect in-flight satellite transmission platform. The broadband IP pipe in the sky allows eXConnect to provide high-speed Internet, live video programming, interactive entertainment and real-time maintenance applications during flight.
Panasonic executive director David Bruner told Satellite News that considering the skyrocketing cost of fuel, the size and weight of eXConnet is a key sell to the industry. “The solution has to be economically feasible. So, our service allows us to be comparable with international roaming and in some cases, we’re actually a little under it.”