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Air New Zealand is moving steadily towards the launch of inflight internet on domestic and international flights, with the airline now running the numbers on how it will price its sky-high WiFi connectivity,
“We’ve got several scenarios that I think will be quite innovative and quite clever,” Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon told Australian Business Traveller on the sidelines of an international Star Alliance media gathering in Frankfurt.
“It’s important that when we do launch, we launch with a comprehensive solution and we also want to make sure in a classic Air New Zealand way that we do it a little bit differently while still meeting the needs of our customers.”
The Star Alliance member "will begin rolling out inflight Wi-Fi on its jet services towards the end of 2017" a spokeswoman for the airline confirmed to Australian Business Traveller, although refusing to confirm which aircraft or routes would be first to see the satellite service.
Air New Zealand had previously said its long-range Boeing 777-300ER and short-range Airbus A3210neo would be first on the list to be kitted out with the satellite tech, however the A321neo deliveries have now been pushed back to sometime in 2018.
In the longer term, pricing “might be be different for domestic, trans-Tasman and long- haul routes” he added. “It might not be a one-size-fits-all solution.”
David Flynn travelled to Frankfurt as a guest of Star Alliance.
PREVIOUS | Air New Zealand will roll out inflight Internet across its domestic, trans-Tasman and international network from 2017.
AirNZ CEO Chris Luxon, announcing the move at a press conference held in Sydney this morning, promised the service would be "world class WiFi".
The satellite-based Internet service – powered by Inmarsat's new global GX satellite constellation – is due to launch in the second half of 2017, with initial trials on a Boeing 777-300ER and a factory-fresh Airbus A321neo.
International first, domestic to follow
The airline’s international fleet will be the first fitted with WiFi, with domestic New Zealand following in 2018.
“Our customers want WiFi on those longer flights to LA, San Francisco, Houston and Vancouver, they’re up to 14 hours, so our focus will be to get the long-haul fleet done as quickly as we can," Air New Zealand's Chief Revenue Officer Cam Wallace told Australian Business Traveller.
Wallace added that unlike the long international flights, “the biggest challenge for us is to establish what (pricing) model we deploy in our domestic market, where you spend an average of 45 minutes in the air, but we want it to be available gate-to-gate.”
While most of the AirNZ fleet will be retrofitted with the satellite technology over the course of 18 months, new Airbus A321neo jets – due for delivery from 2017 – will be kitted out at the factory.
Carrie Hurihanganui, Air New Zealand's General Manager for Customer Experience (below), told Australian Business Traveller that the airline has not yet decided on the pricing model, although Hurihanganui would not rule out either free or paid services.
"It will be somewhat driven by what customers are telling us they want to use (the service) for, because different people want different things."
Asked to qualify what 'world class' means in the contest of inflight Internet, Hurihanganui cited not just speed but consistency of service and a reliable product.
"We want to get a system that delivers to customers, because if you're going to offer something you also have to be able to deliver on that."
Cam Wallace revealed the airline is looking at “three to four core options” on pricing.
In keeping with the airline’s unbundling approach and ‘seats to suit’ strategy “you could have it as part of the fare type” Wallace told Australian Business Traveller.
“You also have business class passengers who are paying a significant amount of money, and so could be part of the fare.”
“Or we could have a generic fee based on time or bandwidth, or a ‘membership’ model as part of Airpoints for example.”
As for the potential to make the Internet free for all passengers, “we want to unpack what ‘free’ really means.”
Arch-competitor Qantas has indicated its own WiFi service – due to start later this year – will be free of charge to all passengers.
The Kiwi carrier's partner Virgin Australia also intends to flick the switch on sky-high WiFi next year for domestic and international flights, although the fleet-wide upgrade is expected to take "a couple of years", says Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.
Read more: Virgin Australia to launch inflight Internet
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