Sunday, March 24, 2019

In-flight Wi-Fi: High cost of deployment may deter airlines

Mumbai: The Government may have started giving out licences to operators for offering Wi-Fi services in domestic flights, but it may be a while before passengers get to access Internet at 30,000 ft. High cost of deploying the service, bleak financial conditions of the aviation sector, in general, and lack of clarity about the business model may come in the way of offering in-flight Wi-Fi services.

“Airlines are bullish, but it will take longer than expected due to the financial crunch they are facing at the moment,”said Partho Banerjee, President and Managing Director, Hughes Communication India Ltd (HCIL), one of the companies to procure in-flight and maritime connectivity (IFMC) licence from the Department of Telecommunications.

Last December, the Centre had decided to provide the IFMC licence that allows service providers to partner with Indian and foreign airlines, along with shipping companies, to provide in-flight and maritime voice and data facility via on ground telecom network or using satellite.

“It will take 3-4 years for their entire fleets of the airlines to be connected,” said Shivaji Chatterjee, Senior Vice-President and Head Enterprise Business, Hughes Communications India Ltd.
An aircraft needs to be grounded for at least two days to install the system. A flat antenna needs to be fused and retrofitted on an aircraft to connect to the satellite. This means commercial losses for the airline and they are currently not in a position to idle any aircraft.

The other option is to install the antenna when the aircraft is brought in for maintenance. It takes around ₹3 crore to install the system on an aircraft. “To get the airlines to take the plunge now is going to be a task. Full-service carriers such as Vistara could look at adopting the service, but airlines want to focus on the return on investment first,”said Chatterjee.

Service providers also point out that the Indian mindset of wanting ‘free Wi-Fi’ might pose a problem for the airlines.
24/03/19 Forum Gandhi/Business Line
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