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In-flight broadband increasingly in demand, says Inmarsat

Three in five European airline passengers report that they ‘need’ in-flight internet access, according to an Inmarsat report

Airlines will soon come under pressure to install higher quality in-flight broadband services in their aircraft, according to Inmarsat’s latest In-flight connectivity survey.

The survey of 6,000 passengers, conducted by mobile satellite comms supplier Inmarsat with help from market researchers at GfK, found sky-high demand for in-flight Wi-Fi services.

High demand exists across all age demographics, and business and leisure travellers alike, suggesting that in-flight broadband could become an even stronger source of revenues for airlines, as well as a service differentiator.

The survey was conducted during August and September 2015 among passengers who had taken a European flight in the previous 12 months and had carried at least one personal device with them.

It said that 80% of those surveyed would use in-flight Wi-Fi given the chance, and 67% would be willing to pay for it. Three out of five passengers reported that they “need” in-flight connectivity.

A total of 67% said they felt more valued by an airline that offered it, and 69% would go out of their way to pick a carrier that did. Business travellers – generally more frequent flyers anyway – said that this was particularly important to them.

Business-related demand was, unsurprisingly, revealed to be very high, with business travellers connecting their devices for leisure purposes as well as work.

Web browsing and email dominated usage patterns across all age groups, although younger flyers opted more for games and video streaming, suggesting further potential for airlines to offer more personalised in-flight entertainment over Wi-Fi.

Four out of five envisaged a future where connectivity was a universal feature of the passenger experience, agreeing with the statement that all aircraft would offer Wi-Fi within five to 10 years. Inmarsat said this relatively short time-frame and the number of people who saw access as a given pointed to the industry now being at a turning point in terms of adoption.

“Connected passengers are happier passengers, who not only feel more valued by their airline, but would go as far as opting for a carrier that provides in-flight Wi-Fi over one which doesn’t,” said Inmarsat aviation president Leo Mondale.

“Additionally, with a majority of passengers across all age groups willing to pay for onboard connectivity, this is an opportunity that the airline industry simply cannot afford to miss.”

Mondale suggested that airlines could realise a quick and easy top-line bump simply by retrofitting aircraft with broadband equipment, instead of undergoing expensive cabin redesigns and focusing on ever-more elaborate premium seat designs.

In an acknowledgement of the way the wind is blowing when it comes to in-flight broadband, aircraft supplier Boeing recently announced a partnership with ViaSat to install Ka-band airborne satellite hardware as a factory option on new airliners. This would enable buyers to receive planes direct from the production line with broadband connectivity ready for use.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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