SAUDIA passengers should expect to experience “in-flight service that far exceeds what has been available until now” when the carrier deploys Stellar Blu’s new in-flight connectivity terminal to support Inmarsat Global service Xpress (GX) on 35 upcoming deliveries from London-based narrow-body Airbus. Inmarsat tells Runway Girl Network. The IFC solution will enter commercial service from early 2023, with Inmarsat serving as the aeronautical ISP.
Saudi Arabia’s national carrier is a long-time customer of SITA L-Band Satellite Internet service. In partnership with SITA, he then opted for the broadband hybrid Taqnia Space Ka/Ku terminal for the A320s in service, and began to do the same for its Boeing 777s before the COVID-19 pandemic. But in November 2021, SAUDIA became the first airline in the world to select a next generation GX terminal called Falcon 300 from Stellar Blu (formerly GDC Technics).
The Falcon 300 terminal, which will transmit data over GX, includes Stellar Blu’s unique modem manager, with proprietary components from Kontron and a next-generation modem from iDirect, as well as a Ka-band flat panel VICTS antenna from ThinKom Solutions. It will equip 20 Airbus A321neo as well as 15 of the A321XLR variant, after their delivery to SAUDIA.
Although Inmarsat has a solid list of value-added reseller (VAR) partners for GX, it also took a more direct approach with some airline customers, as an internet service provider. And indeed, for the SAUDIA program, the aero ISP will be Inmarsat, confirms Inmarsat SVP in-flight connectivity William Huot-Marchand to Runway Girl Network.
“We see this as the start of an exciting relationship with SAUDIA and a great opportunity to expand GX’s coverage and availability within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Asked by RGN how the PaxEx (passenger experience) available on SAUDIA aircraft equipped with Stellar Blu/GX will compare to aircraft equipped with the hybrid UON solution offered by Taqnia Space and SITA, Huot-Marchand said: “Inmarsat and Stellar Blu will provide SAUDIA with faster speeds, better service consistency and our new OneFi advanced passenger experience platform, allowing passengers on the national carrier to enjoy in-flight service that far exceeds what has been available until now. ‘now.
Revealed last year, OneFi brings together a multitude of services on board within a single portal interfacethat passengers can access using their personal devices.
Although the launch schedule for the new nextgen GX solution has moved slightly to the right – it is now scheduled for early 2023 compared to late 2022 – Inmarsat claims that the new Stellar Blu terminal is in fact ready to be deployed after the successful conclusion of a flight test campaign “where its performance was tested over 320+ concurrent online user sessions and sustained throughput of over 200 Mbps.”
The Falcon 300 terminal “has received full type approval for use on Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) satellite network,” notes the satellite operator and aviation ISP, and was designed to allow passengers to stream high-definition videos, download documents, browse the Internet, shop online and enjoy social media from the comfort of their seat.
Since the product is not available online at Airbus, Stellar Blu will install the Falcon 300 terminal on new Airbus narrow bodies from SAUDIA, after delivery.
The lightweight terminal is compatible with all existing and future satellites of Inmarsat’s GX network, according to Inmarsat. When asked if that statement contemplated future Viasat satellites once the Calsbad, Calif.-based satellite operator acquisition of Inmarsat is complete, Huot-Marchand says: “The terminal is fully compatible with all existing and future GX satellites, including 7, 8, 9 and 10a/10b. (An IFC vertically integrated provider, Viasat previously indicated it seeks to merge the direct aerodynamic model with Inmarsat’s VAR ecosystem.)
Tracy Trent, president of Stellar Blu, said the company is looking forward to seeing its Falcon 300 terminal on board. SAUDI‘s Airbus A321neo and Airbus A321XLR, “followed by many other airline fleets in the years to come”.
Image of the SAUDIA logo as seen at the carrier’s check-in counter in Washington Dulles, credited to Mary Kirby