UK LCC easyJet is set to trial onboard intranet-based IFE, supplied by Barcelona-headquartered technology firm Immfly, from this fall and is evaluating Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network (EAN) for future full Wi-Fi connectivity.

EasyJet announced the move during its annual Innovation Day at London Gatwick Airport, alongside the main announcement that it had partnered on a commercial electric aircraft venture.

The onboard intranet product, branded as Air Time, will initially be deployed on five Geneva-based easyJet Switzerland aircraft, which will each be equipped with three local area network access points and an onboard server. This sub-fleet was selected as the Swiss operation is smaller and easier to monitor than easyJet’s UK fleet.

The Air Time system will be free to access, with no registration. It is sponsored by internet services firm Rakuten and credit card provider American Express, companies which have been attracted by easyJet’s higher-end and affluent LCC passenger profile. EasyJet carries over 78 million passengers annually, including 12 million business travelers. “If customers really engage with it, we will go to a radical roll-out,” easyJet head of apps & digital travel experience Dan Young said.

Air Time is a walled-garden intranet solution, limited to streaming media content that is uploaded and synchronized during aircraft turnarounds. Passengers will not be able to browse the wider internet in real-time, but they will be able to access to prerecorded TV, films, audio books, games, flight information and destination guides on their personal devices.

Immfly is already working with Spanish carriers Iberia Express and Volotea, as well as French airline XL Airways. The technology firm expects to reach 100 million connected passengers by 2018.

When asked by ATW about how easyJet is progressing with its WiFi evaluations, easyJet head of engineering Gary Smith replied: “That technology is changing very quickly. We are watching it very closely. If the trial of Air Time is a success, we will have to look at in-seat power, but it has to be technically viable and fit our business environment.”

Smith said easyJet is following developments of Inmarsat’s European Aviation Network (EAN), a new air-to-ground Wi-Fi solution that cuts antenna size, drag and operating costs. “That [EAN] has to stand on own two feet. From an operating perspective, we can do a lot with the aircraft is just connected on the ground, but when the [EAN] economics are right, all airlines will look at that,” Smith said.

Reliability levels also have to be right before easyJet will make a move. “On a 90-minute flight, people want to access content –live news is not as much of a driver,” an easyJet spokesman said.

EasyJet is a major European LCC, operating a fleet of more than 279 aircraft across a network of 880 short-haul routes.

Victoria Moores