Cabin Connectivity: What to Know When Hiring Out a Jet

If you charter out your aircraft when not in use, cabin connectivity is a must. The Wi-Fi needs of a charter customer could be very different to yours – and much more expensive. How do you plan for this? Rebecca Applegarth asks James Person and Brian Wilson.

Rebecca Applegarth  |  27th August 2020
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    Rebecca Applegarth
    Rebecca Applegarth

    Rebecca Applegarth has been brought up around Aviation for as long as she can remember. As a current...

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    Young family using laptops and iPads in private jet cabin

    It’s important to control the costs of in-flight cabin connectivity at all times – but especially so when your aircraft is being made available for charter use. Here's how...

    While you can educate your regular aircraft users over the cost of their data consumption, it’s not so straightforward when unknown individuals and groups are using the aircraft.

    So it becomes important to find other ways to control the in-flight connectivity costs. Fortunately, there are a few ways, as highlighted by Viasat’s James Person and Gogo Business Aviation’s Brian Wilson…

    Consider Hourly Pricing/Pricing Plans (Where Available)

    Some data providers offer a monthly unlimited data plan. These are always popular with the company CFO since they protect the company from exposure to overage charges. As an example, “charter operators can choose Viasat’s fixed monthly plans for their excellent value,” says Person, adding that many charter operators opt for one of Viasat’s hourly plans.

    “The hourly offering includes a smaller monthly fee, compared to our fixed monthly pricing,” he clarifies. “It includes 10 hours per month of unlimited use.”

    According to Person, owners can use the 10 hours of unlimited data themselves, or they can be charged out to charter customers. After the 10 hours are used, each additional hour of unlimited use is billed.

    “This allows charter operators to bill their customers for unlimited high-speed data usage in the same way they bill for the rest of the charter – by the hour.”

    The price can be added for those charter operators who choose to offer high-speed global internet as an option, or built-in to the hourly charter rate for the aircraft. The hourly pricing is such that it allows for operators to mark it up and make money on unlimited use internet – especially for Large Cabin, Ultra-Long-Range Jets.

    “This is a touchy subject,” says Person. “The consumer is exposed to ancillary costs in their everyday lives and many don’t like it. It can be similar to booking a seat on a start-up airline for a price that seems too good to be true, then be hit with additional costs to choose a seat, bring on a bag, and of course use the Wi-Fi.”

    “Most data providers do not offer such plans,” Wilson qualifies, “especially where the data system is capable of performing streaming of content.”

    The best way to mitigate this is to ask the service provider to give an average of usage per hour, he suggests. “They have these metrics which are usually based on hundreds of thousands of flight hours, so the average usage is pretty consistent.

    “For example, let’s say the system (on average) uses 250Mb/hr. The charter operator could estimate the hours the aircraft will fly that month and divide that into their monthly rate. Then the costs would be added into the hourly rate to charter the aircraft.”

    Wilson suggests that for established charter companies with many high net worth clients, there is no real potential to ‘make money’. Ultimately, he says, finding a way to cover costs is the real goal.

    “Start-up charter companies offering shared seating and membership cards could have offerings similar to hotels,” he adds. “These could be based on a customer’s level of membership, and the charter company could include a certain amount of data per hour in the package.”

    Anything over that would be charged after the flight, just like the catering, landing fees, etc. “The service provider would need to have a web-based portal so the charter operator could see how much data was used on the flight.”

    Maximizing the Value of Your Connectivity Offering

    Passengers are more likely to continue to use a charter operator that delivers a positive connectivity experience, meaning that the cabin Wi-Fi solution you install will need to meet a potentially wider range of needs than your own.

    “Providing an in-flight connectivity solution that not only delivers reliable and fast internet speeds but is able to serve all passengers and crew is another way to control costs,” Person argues.

    A big part of keeping ahead of the curve is to invest in forward compatible equipment, allowing aircraft to take advantage of new satellite-based systems that offer faster speeds and expanded coverage without the need to remove and replace IFC systems.

    “In the long-run, being able to take advantage of tomorrow’s advanced technology without having to invest in new IFC systems provides a big cost saving,” Person says.

    What are the Possible Coverage Requirements? 

    Of course, part of understanding the best and most cost-effective Wi-Fi solution for charter use is to understand where the aircraft is most likely to fly on charter missions. Will the travel be international (consider a satellite solution) or North America only (consider an Air-to-Ground solution such as Gogo’s AVANCE L3 or L5).

    Global coverage ensures passengers and crew are connected wherever they go in the world, Person says. “Combining flexible plans – like Viasat’s hourly pricing, high value connectivity with global coverage – helps control costs by enabling you to offer a unique and consistent experience.”

    As an example, Viasat offers systems which are able to automatically default to bands such as Ka- and leverage Ku-band back-up service when outside of the Ka-band footprint. “This seamless shift between Ka- and Ku-band networks deliver a continuous high-speed internet experience for passengers.

    In Summary

    Essentially, controlling the costs, and maximizing the value of your cabin connectivity system when the aircraft is being chartered out comes down to the planning. Discuss your plans with the connectivity provider when you are discussing your own needs.

    They will have the experience and flexibility to offer solutions so that you can get the best of both worlds.

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