Qantas may be gearing up for trials of in-flight internet on its international Airbus A380 planes early next year but the airline is less bullish on the prospects of domestic internet services.
“We haven’t yet found a domestic solution we’re comfortable with” Alison Webster, Qantas Executive Manager for Customer Experience, told Australian Business Traveller.
“We want to make sure that we’ve got the best package and we haven’t been convinced up to now that there is a ‘best package’ in the market’ she admits.
The challenge is the vast tract of desert and other sparsely-populated areas which domestic Australian flights must traverse.
While the US is dotted with ground stations which can beam signals up to the plane and back, and has ample flights to easily deliver economy of scale to inflight Internet providers, both the technology and the economics are vastly different in the Australian market.
“Many domestic US airlines already offer wifi Internet connectivity because of the signal coverage from ground-to-air networks but in Australia we don’t have the same kid of ground coverage” Webster explains. “So we’re still talking to suppliers around what the best opportunities are, and we’re also looking at new innovations and new entrants into the market.”
Having now completed a “fleet-wide connectivity review” to examine the connectivity options for current and on-order aircraft, Webster says the only decision Qantas has made it “to not rush into” a decision.
“We want to make sure that when we do make a decision, we make the right decision in terms of offering the right bandwidth and charges for our customers and at the right operating cost for Qantas.”
Virgin Australia finds itself in a similar position, evaluating in-flight WiFi systems which it says will be used for internet as well as media streaming to laptops and tablets.
A Virgin Australia spokeswoman confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that the airline’s newest Boeing 737s are fitted “with satellite communication capability which will provide us with aircraft connectivity options down the track".
As previously reported, Webster says next month’s test of wifi-based media streaming to iPads is not related to plans for in-flight internet.
"The trial of Q Streaming and the Lufthansa system we are using is absolutely about in-flight entertainment" she told Australian Business Traveller. "It's not necessarily the platform that will take us to in-flight Internet, that's something we are looking at separately."