The Seamless Air Alliance, an Airbus-led consortium of airlines, communications equipment manufacturers and operators of mobile networks and satellites, is working toward a technology demonstration for improved passenger connectivity experience this year.

The Seamless Air Alliance aims at enabling every traveler to use his or her own device “to automatically connect to the Internet with no complicated login process nor paywall to scramble over.” Formed last year, the consortium now has three working groups—writing specifications for the technology, requirements and operations.

“The passenger experience with inflight connectivity [IFE] remains one of the great technology challenges,” the alliance’s CEO Jack Mandala said.

Several business models coexist but have yet to prove their worth in the long run. A handful of airlines offers free Wi-Fi. For those providing an internet connection for a fee, “the current practice of high prices, spotty coverage and poor performance, combined with quirky portals and credit card payments, has limited take rates to 10% or less,” according to a report published by the Alliance. Carriers and service providers have had “limited success” with third-party revenue such as advertising.

The consortium seems to be willing to promote sponsorship. “T-Mobile allows their subscribers service on Gogo-equipped airplanes,” the report notes. This might answer the burning question on pricing. Passengers expect connectivity for free, but satellite communications come at a cost.

Airline capital costs to install equipment, coupled with ongoing service charges, ongoing maintenance charges that include sparing and repair, operation costs because of weight and drag, training costs, new feature development and internal staffing generate more cost than passengers are willing to pay, according to the report.

The study assumes the projected standardization can bring a modest 5% annual improvement in each of four key areas—take rate, cost per session, operating cost and capital equipment cost. In that instance, the value of the inflight connectivity market would increase by $11.4 billion over 2019-28. But the take rate could grow much faster than 5% per year, the report suggests.

Also, a “bring your own device” strategy may eventually drive down the need to equip aircraft with IFE systems.

The Alliance was founded by Airbus, Airtel, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, OneWeb and Sprint. Other members include Air France KLM, Aeromexico, Etihad Airways and GOL Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, as well as Adaptive Channel, Astronics, Collins Aerospace, Comtech, Cyient, GlobalReach Technology, iDirect, Inmarsat, Intelsat, Latecoere, Nokia, Panasonic, Safran and SITAONAIR.

Thierry Dubois, thierry.dubois@aviationweek.com