Finnair is one of the most progressive airlines in Europe when it comes to connectivity and has ambitious plans in terms of bringing new services to passengers. Last year, it signed an agreement with ViaSat to install a high-speed wireless internet network on its entire Airbus A320 series short-haul fleet flying in Europe. The installation of the Wi-Fi equipment will begin in May 2017 and will be completed by June 2018. We recently caught up with Harri Valkama, manager of Inflight eCommerce & IFEC at Finnair, to get the latest on the airline’s strategy.
The Finnair A350 fleet is linefitted with Panasonic eXConnect (KU-band). We have seven aircraft at the moment and four more coming in 2017. In 2023, we’ll have total of 19 A350s. Twelve of the 19 are now awarded to Panasonic. We are also retrofitting our A330 fleet with Panasonic eXConnect. Five out of eight aircraft are already done, and the whole A330 fleet is ready at the end of May 2017. During the summer 2017, we’ll start our A32 fleet’s connectivity installations, and the whole fleet (34 aircraft) is installed at the end of summer 2018. We’ll have ViaSat Ka-band solution for the A32s fleet. We have not made any decision on connectivity for the Embraer and ATR fleet. We want to offer personal and relevant digital services to our customers throughout the whole customer journey in all of our digital channels (www, mobile app and IFE/Wi-Fi). Connected aircraft is a key element in that. Connectivity also boots our ancillary and other sales in the aircraft and brings the operational efficiency.
The whole fleet will be connected at the end of summer 2018, excluding Embraers and ATRs. At the moment, the Wi-Fi is chargeable in economy class and complimentary in business class and also for Finnair Plus Platinum and Gold members. Our business case is not based on Wi-Fi sales only. There are several other revenue streams enabled by Wi-Fi, and we think that overall the business case is successful for us.
We are all the time challenging and evaluating our business model for Wi-Fi. We don’t rule out different sponsorship and partnership models. We have built our open Wi-Fi ecosystem in a way that enables fast time to market for changes and trials. It is more than likely that internet access is complimentary for all the passengers in the future and it becomes kind of a hygienic factor.
Our ViaSat Ka-band solution for A32s fleet will bring roughly 12Mbs bandwidth per passenger, and we think that’s plenty for all the devices for now. Also in the near future we’ll get the benefit from HTS Ku-band satellites for our wide-body fleet, and that will increase the capacity and bandwidth. We acknowledge that there will be a demand for more and more bandwidth in the future for our passengers as the passenger devices evolve, and we hope that the connectivity technologies keeps up with that demand.
One of our strategic development items is the Nordic Sky Wi-Fi portal that is already available in all of our connected aircraft. Nordic Sky portal is a constantly evolving platform where we offer a different kind of useful services for our passengers like shopping, news, entertainment, customer service and, of course, internet connection and much more. Nordic Sky portal is integrated with other platforms like seatback IFE, crew payment terminals and Finnair back office systems on the ground. Our ecosystem enables agile development where we can bring new services and products for our customers in fast pace.
Any service that we implement has a positive business case that brings additional revenue, improves customer experience and satisfaction or improves our operational efficiency and cost savings.
We have tried several different services, some of them successful and some not. It’s important to fail fast in these trials and learn from them.
We certainly believe that we have a lot to learn in everything that comes to the connected aircraft. It is a quite new thing in the commercial aviation and the possibilities are endless.
We think the services for passenger are developing into more and more personalized services over the next 12 months. A successful year for Finnair is, of course, high take-up rates for our Wi-Fi and also happy customers. GCA