China Eastern Airlines will become the first Chinese carrier to offer commercial inflight internet service on long-haul international flights as it partners with China Telecom to launch the service on ex-Shanghai flights to New York, Los Angeles and Toronto on November 12.
China Eastern to offer free Wifi service for first three months
Free initial service despite high costs
The in-flight internet service will be introduced on China Eastern’s newly acquired Boeing 777-300ER wide-bodied jets that are equipped with a satellite internet communications device by Panasonic USA. The device will communicate with China Telecom’s satellite and ground network platform that uses the Ku bandwidth communications satellite on a geosynchronous orbit to enable in-flight broadband internet service.
China Eastern began to consider proposals for in-flight internet technology in 2011 and finally decided to partner with China Telecom to use high-speed satellite transmission signal to achieve in-flight connectivity.
Deputy director of China Eastern’s Office for Aircraft Refurbishment, Chi Zhang, said the costs for installing in-flight internet are incurred mainly in fitting the equipment and installation，at US$100,000 per plane, and for satellite usage at various cost levels based on satellite service supply in different regions.
Despite the high operating costs, China Eastern has chosen to offer its passengers free internet in the initial phase of operations. From November 6, passengers on its flights from Shanghai to New York，LA and Toronto can apply in advance for using the inflight internet service when purchasing their tickets. The applications can be made on the airline’s app and official website.
Mr. Zhang said that by mid December, China Eastern will also start in-flight internet service in its international flights to Vancouver and San Francisco, and in the domestic flights from Shanghai to Beijing, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Chongqing. China Eastern will continue to install internet equipment on aircraft in 2016 and hopes to make in-flight internet the company’s standard service within the next three years.
Exploring new revenue sources
“We will offer free internet service for at least three months in the hope that it will influence passengers’ purchasing choices in the future. In a 2014 study, we found that 64% of passengers will choose flights with internet service first, and this ratio will likely increase in the future,” Mr. Zhang said. In the future, the in-flight internet service will likely be priced according to time usage or flight service, offering service packages by the hour or for the entire flight duration.
Products other than air tickets
China Eastern Airlines E-Business Co., established in December 2014, intends to use air ticket sales to enter e-commerce and open up a one-stop solution channel for additional customer service needs such hotels, airport transfer, valet parking, tourism and overseas Wi-Fi.
Besides participating in the in-flight Wi-Fi added value service program, China Eastern E-Business also has the critical task of finding ways to attract customers to China Eastern’s mobile booking platforms. Already incorporated in its app are services such as booking air tickets and hotels or buying reward merchandise and pre-ordering overseas Wi-Fi services, as the carrier explore additional value-added services other than selling air tickets.(Translation by David)