Getting WiFi on a plane is a massive bonus for any passenger. But the availability of such services is still very variable between carriers, and the quality of the connectivity provided can be somewhat unpredictable too. For passengers in Europe, however, the future is looking bright, as the European Aviation Network (EAN) is about to really take off.
EAN has been developed by leading aviation connectivity provider Inmarsat. Announced some years ago, the company has been developing, optimizing and refining its offering, with a soft launch with British Airways earlier this year.
Simple Flying caught up with Dominic Walters, Vice President at Inmarsat Aviation, to find out how the rollout is going, and why he thinks 2020 is the year EAN will be aviation’s most talked about innovation.
What is the EAN?
In a nutshell, the EAN is the world’s first inflight WiFi solution to integrate both satellite and ground-based connections for a seamless, high-speed service. Using Inmarsat’s S-band satellite alongside 4G LTE connectivity from Deutsche Telekom, the service is capable of covering all 28 EU member states as well as Switzerland and Norway. Walters told us,
“EAN is an immensely bold vision for Europe. We’ve really delivered in conjunction with our partner Deutsche Telekom one of the most innovative inflight connectivity solutions. It combines satellite and ground systems to deliver the fastest connectivity. It enables us to scale quickly as and when necessary.”
Inmarsat started rolling the EAN out to business aircraft in 2018, and then earlier this year the first commercial flights began to take off. IAG was to be the launch customer, with British Airways the first to install and switch on the facility. Walters continued,
“We currently have about 100 connected aircraft flying today. BA, obviously, is the trailblazer for EAN closely followed by Iberia and now Vueling. BA has been testing and optimizing, and for them digitization is very important. They want to get it right, so they’ve been trailing it, working on it and optimizing all the time.”
As with any brand new service, it’s important to do some tweaks and twiddles in order to get it just right for the customers. It’s great to hear BA are keen to get it absolutely perfect, and what they’re doing will be instrumental in helping Inmarsat roll a successful solution out more widely.
2020 is the year of European short-haul WiFi
As 2019 draws to a close, Inmarsat is eager to see where the EAN goes in 2020. So far, only IAG has been testing it, so we can almost certainly expect next year to include many announcements of new airline signing up to the service. Walters said,
“I would say 2019 has been the year of optimization of EAN. 2020 is the year where you’re going to see it really break out of the gate. Everyone is going to be talking about it nonstop.”
But, of course, what we really want to know is – who’s next? Walters was suitably tight-lipped about any names, but was confident that more airlines would be joining very soon.
“We’re talking to a number of airlines about it,” he told us.
The beauty of EAN is that it’s designed for Europe. It doesn’t purport to be an international solution, rather to be the best solution for the European short-haul market, a market which is somewhat devoid of inflight connectivity solutions right now.
It’s also priced very competitively, particularly when compared to Ka-band satellite systems. This means it is a reachable benefit for low-cost carriers as well as full-service airlines. With the likes of easyJet and Ryanair surviving on their ancillary revenues, we wouldn’t be at all surprised to see EAN powered WiFi onboard their aircraft in the future. Be prepared to pay handsomely if you want to use it though!
Where can we use the EAN right now?
Dominic told us that the EAN is already available on hundreds of flights each day. He said,
“Right now, it’s accessible on over 250 routes across Europe, routes from London to Madrid, Barcelona, Geneva, Rome… all of those routes with BA and Iberia offering it. I think there are approximately five and a half million passengers who have been able to connect with EAN. That equates to some 35,000 flights.”
However, this is clearly a small proportion of the potential for the EAN in the future. Walters summed up the outlook for 2020 quite beautifully, saying,
“This is the year of infancy… next year is going to be the teenage years! As we move into 2020 we will see it bursting out and screaming.”