Exclusive: Why Saudia Chose Inmarsat For Its Airbus A321XLRs

Last week, Inmarsat announced a firm commitment from Saudia to provide its industry-leading Global Xpress (GX) connectivity onboard the airline’s incoming A321neos and A321XLRs. Saudia will be the first to fly GX in Saudi Arabia, the first in the region to use the OneFi portal, and the first commercial airline in the world to commit to Inmarsat’s groundbreaking new GDC terminal. Simple Flying caught up with Neale Faulkner, Regional Vice President for MEASA, to find out more.

Saudia A321XLR
Saudia has picked Inmarsat’s GX network for its A321neos and XLRs. Photo: Airbus

Saudia picks Inmarsat

Announced at last week’s Dubai Airshow, Saudia selected Inmarsat’s GX Aviation connectivity solution to power its incoming fleet of Airbus aircraft. All in, between the A321neo and the A321XLR, Inmarsat will provide connectivity for 35 aircraft.

Also in the deal is the deployment of the OneFi platform, a game-changing new customer experience platform that promises a better user experience, and more opportunity for airlines to generate ancillary revenue. Powering it all will be a new ultra-high performance terminal by GDC Advanced Technology.

At the announcement of the deal, Captain Ibrahim S. Koshy, CEO of Saudia, said,

“We understand the growing importance of high-speed inflight broadband, providing a seamless experience for guests to remain connected and entertained while flying with us. Inmarsat’s GX Aviation and OneFi solutions, together with GDC Advanced Technology’s next-generation terminal, will ensure our passengers have access to world-class connectivity on all flights operated by our Airbus A321neo and A321XLR aircraft.”

Exclusive: Why Saudia Chose Inmarsat For Its Airbus A321XLRs
The deal was signed during the Dubai Airshow. Photo: Saudia

A deal of firsts

The tie-up with Saudia was a series of firsts for the airline and for Inmarsat. Simple Flying caught up with Neale Faulkner, Regional Vice President for MEASA, to find out more about the importance of the tie-up.

“This is the first time that GX will be deployed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudia themselves have been really aspirational with the Saudi Vision 2030, and they also been the most improved airline twice in the last four years, which demonstrates the vision that they have as an airline. GX is part of that plan.”

It might be the first time Inmarsat has had a presence in Saudi Arabia, but it’s no stranger to the Middle East. Already, the firm supplies Qatar Airways with its GX connectivity, as well as Gulf Air, and it is set to be the provider for connectivity on Emirates’ forthcoming 777X. Snagging Saudia really fills in an important gap in the Middle East region.

But that’s not the only first contained within this deal, as Faulkner explained,

“It’s also the  first time that we’ll be deploying OneFi in the region.”

Saudia is the first airline in the EMEA region to commit to OneFi. Photo: Inmarsat

OneFi is a new platform for inflight passenger experience. The new portal will help airlines provide a retail experience that is more akin to online shopping from home, letting them improve onboard offerings and boost their ability to generate ancillary revenue. By the time Saudia’s neos begin delivering, there may be other airlines flying with OneFi, but for now, Saudia is the first in the EMEA region to commit to the platform.

Learn more: Inside OneFi

Launch customer for the GDC terminal

Earlier this year, Inmarsat completed testing and certification of its new GDC Technics terminal for the GX network. The improved terminal includes the ThinKom antenna, and overall is a lower-drag, more efficient terminal ready to provide increasingly data-hungry passengers with a better WiFi connection. Neale explained,

“It’s the first time that we will be deploying the GDC Thinkom terminal. It’s a low profile terminal, no more than five or six inches high, which reduces drag and has much better capability to increase bandwidth. This means better speeds for passengers, better service, and more capabilities to do other things onboard the aircraft.”

While Saudia is certainly the first commercial airline to commit to the new and improved terminal, whether they are the launch customer or not will largely depend on the timing of the A321neos arrival. At present, the first installation of the GX system is expected in late 2022, as the first of 20 A321neos arrives. The 15 A321XLR will start to arrive in 2024.

Exclusive: Why Saudia Chose Inmarsat For Its Airbus A321XLRs
The low-drag, high-performance terminal will deploy first with Saudia. Photo: GDC

Choosing Inmarsat GX with the GDC terminal means the aircraft will be post line fitted with the equipment, and will arrive with Saudia ready to go. For Saudia, that means they can begin flying right away and their passengers can get connected from day one.

With powerful WiFi onboard, the airline could be forgiven for going down the route of ‘bring your own device’ IFE. But that’s not the plan. The airline intends to provide full IFE via seatback screens, while streaming to personal devices can still be facilitated via the GX technology, letting passengers ‘multitask’, if they wish.

For Saudia, this is all part of the exceptional customer experience it is planning for the A321neo family aircraft, as Neale explained,

“Quite simply, they wanted the very best experience for the passengers. With Saudia, everything always starts with the passenger. They wanted the experience to be good, they wanted the speeds to be fast, they wanted a reliable terminal. They really set the scene of what they wanted, and we were able to deliver with OneFi and GDC.”

Saudia is busy trying to reinvent itself, so that it can reach its full potential in the future. Adding world-leading connectivity to some of the most hotly anticipated aircraft in the industry will set it up to compete with the big boys for many years to come.