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EAN is full of surprises

Since entering commercial service with a soft launch onboard British Airways’ short-haul fleet back in March 2019, Inmarsat’s and Deutsche Telekom’s joint European Aviation Network (EAN) inflight broadband has been capturing the attention of the airline industry and rapidly hitting installation milestones with ease. Just last month, it was announced that EAN had been successfully activated on its 250th aircraft with launch customers British Airways (BA), Iberia and Vueling – all part of the International Airlines Group (IAG) – and its accelerated rollout shows no signs of slowing.

The fastest solution

 The speed and efficiency of EAN’s installation process was honed down to just seven hours during this remarkable rollout. That is 80% faster than any other inflight connectivity solution can be installed in the region and has made it possible for airlines to deliver an aircraft in the morning, only to have it ready to be returned by sundown, fully installed with EAN and ready for testing.

It’s unsurprising really that EAN has been available to over 20 million passengers, travelling on more than 200,000 flights across the continent. And EAN’s speedy credentials don’t end there, as it is also Europe’s fastest inflight connectivity solution, delivering up to 100Mbps bandwidth to the aircraft, whilst providing the lowest latency on the market - up to 10 times lower than any other solution. 

The impact of the pandemic

With the entire aviation industry heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, no one would expect 2020 to be EAN’s best year for take-up rates to date. Interestingly however, over the summer months when flights resumed to some degree, BA saw EAN take-up rates soar by up to 10 times the usual rate during some weeks.

 Although it is impossible to pinpoint the exact cause of this increase in popularity of the service amongst passengers, it is natural to assume that passengers have become more reliant on connectivity during the pandemic. Restrictions have prevented people from travelling even short distances to see family and friends, let alone to other countries. This has meant that the majority of us have turned to FaceTime, Whatsapp and Zoom to feel closer to our loved ones and to keep lines of communication open.

 Magazine motivation

 EAN’s uptick in take-up rates, however, seems to reach beyond this trend for increased dependency on connectivity though, with BA’s particularly impressive numbers over the summer indicating there was more at play. Upon investigation, a unique element of BA’s digital strategy presented itself – the highly popular and well-established inflight magazine High Life had been moved online, as part of the airline’s efforts to create a safe and contactless journey.

 Reaching an audience of over five million customers a month, the magazine was promoted to all passengers onboard EAN-equipped aircraft during welcome announcements made by the crew. Could it be that the popular magazine proved to be the extra incentive that drove higher numbers to BA’s digital portal?

“It’s inevitable that as airlines improve their digital offerings, take-up rates will continue to increase,” says Eric Plantaz, Imarsat’s Regional Vice President in Europe. Plantaz believes that although airlines may reintroduce their printed versions as flight schedules begin to return to normal, it is unlikely their digital twin will ever now disappear. More importantly, crew announcements pointing out the appealing digital offerings that airlines have invested in, will only serve to drive more passengers to sign-up.

Sustainable benefits

 

“Beyond the retail sales and advertising revenue opportunities online magazines can provide, there are environmental and cost benefits,” expands Plantaz. “The cost-savings of not printing tens of thousands of magazines every month would be considerable. And airlines could also improve their sustainability credentials, saving on the use of paper and generally reducing their environmental footprint by cutting magazine production.” 

With sustainability still high on the agenda for many airlines, there are incentives to consider removing the physical presence of the magazine, with weight reduction in the cabin to consider, which could result in a substantial decline in fuel burn.

In fact, Simple Flying reported that it weighed a 2019 version of BA’s High Life magazine and calculated that if the magazine were removed from seatbacks and an aircraft was operated twice a day for 365 days, that would equate to a saving of around 72,500kg across a year. If you were to remove inflight magazines across the aviation industry, there would be potential to see a huge fall in emissions due to the decrease in weight.

Airlines have long been deciding how to best invest in the digitalisation of the cabin experience for passengers and the pandemic appears only to have accelerated that process. As EAN continues to grow and add more milestones under its belt, it will serve as a vital partner to airlines whilst they ramp up their digital offerings to attract passengers back into the air in a COVID-safe manner.

And although the impact of COVID-19 will diminish over time, it is unlikely that passengers will ever again accept a lack of connectivity. “With EAN offering an award-winning broadband experience in the air, just like passengers are used to on the ground, we foresee take-up rates travelling in one direction only and that’s up,” says David Fox, Vice President, Inflight & Connectivity Services at Deutsche Telekom “After all, if there was ever an industry that deserved a bit of good news and continued growth, surely it is the aviation industry in 2021.