As China’s domestic travel and tourism industry shows signs of recovery, inflight connectivity (IFC) service providers are looking to the world’s most populous country as a growth market. After all, the lion’s share of China’s domestic airline fleet is still not fitted with IFC systems that support broadband Internet for passengers.
By the end of 2020, China’s three largest carriers — Air China, China Eastern and China Southern — “had reported demand returning to 90 percent of 2019 levels, but that changed quickly. Fresh COVID outbreaks early this year prompted the Chinese government to impose new travel restrictions during the Lunar New Year holiday. Those have since eased,” noted Airline Weekly in a 5 April 2021 report.
“All three airlines expect this year to be the inflection point and expect demand to rise, starting with national holidays in May,” stated the publication.
Inflight connectivity providers are likewise observing fresh momentum. While the opportunities for fitting IFC systems to Chinese aircraft largely went into hibernation amid the COVID-19 crisis, “we are seeing things start to wake up now,” Global Eagle CEO Josh Marks recently told Runway Girl Network.
As Global Eagle looks at local telco partnerships, that usually brings the space segment as well, noted Marks, “so we don’t close off any options. We want to find the right partners and develop relationships.”
For its part, Panasonic Avionics has invested significant time and capital in the market. It boasts partnerships with several of China’s international airlines, including Air China, China Eastern and China Southern. Its Ku-band IFC system is linefit offerable on many of the widebody aircraft types that regularly plied international routes before the coronavirus pandemic.
Though it never wants to say it’s in the pole position, Panasonic believes it is “positioned appropriately” to be long-term partners with its Chinese customers, as well as to secure new domestic customers, according to company vice president, connectivity solutions Jeff Sare.
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