Our “cover shot” this week is the newest Inmarsat “bird” designed for their new high speed global broadband network. Called Global Xpress (GX), the seamless product, when finalized, will be worldwide. The Global Xpress constellation will be made up of three satellites. The first GX satellite, Inmarsat-5 F1, is now in service over Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, and the second (pictured above) – which will serve the Americas and Atlantic Ocean Region – is launching on 1 February 2015. The third satellite, which has been built and is set for launch soon, will cover the Pacific Ocean Region. Between them, the three satellites will provide consistent global coverage. Full global coverage is scheduled for early in the second half of 2015. GX will offer upgradable bandwidth that allows airlines flexibly to adapt to changing requirements. The satellite was built by Boeing at its El Segundo Development Center in the Los Angeles area. GX Aviation operates in the Ka-band, and will provide up to 50Mbps to the aircraft. Five GX Value Added Resellers are in active discussions with potential airline customers, two of which have been successful (Gogo and OnAir). Gogo announced that Vietnam Airlines will have GX Aviation on its B787s and A350s and OnAir has announced that Qatar will have GX Aviation on its A350s.

Gogo, the global inflight aero communications service provider, announced yesterday that it’s on track for record aircraft installs in 2015. The company now has a backlog of well more than 1,000 commercial aircraft, more than half of which are expected to be installed in 2015.  With the large backlog in commercial aviation and the company’s current trends in business aviation, Gogo expects to install a record number of aircraft in 2015. Recently announced domestic regional jet installs and certain international fleet wins are expected to make up the bulk of the installs for 2015. Gogo expects to bring 500 additional commercial aircraft online by the end of this year, which would bring the total number of commercial aircraft equipped with its connectivity service to more than 2600.  Of the new installs, around 25 percent are expected to be international aircraft. In addition to new installs, Gogo continues to upgrade previously-installed ATG systems to its next generation ATG-4 technology, which triples peak speeds to the aircraft and brings more capacity to the sky. More than a third of the aircraft on which ATG was installed have been upgraded to ATG-4.  Gogo expects close to half the commercial fleet operating in the U.S., or more than 1,000 aircraft, to be upgraded to the newer technology by the end of 2015. In addition to the ATG-4 roll-out, Gogo is on track to launch its global satellite solution – 2Ku – in the second half of 2015. 2Ku is expected to bring peak speeds of more than 70 Mbps to an aircraft, a 20 fold increase when compared to Gogo’s original ATG technology.

We asked a number of readers about why they thought SkyMall went under (Chapter 11) and we got a huge amount of email in response. Here are just a few of the salient comments readers made:

John Courtright (SIE) noted: “Virtually any of the boutique-like products found in the SkyMall catalog could be purchased online directly from the seller or through Amazon.  Much of SkyMall’s inventory was drop shipped which means they didn’t have to hold a lot of inventory but they did have to hold some (that means money)… SkyMall had a pretty good and beautifully automated, for its time (late ’90s) fulfillment center in the Phoenix area but automated fulfillment centers require VOLUME in ever increasing levels.  Other online retailers simply took away their market share.”

Mark Thompson (Thompson Aerospace) told us: “SkyMall did not have a real time buying option, so they lost out on the impulse buying marketing and their items were high cost items, so once off the aircraft people would not buy due to competition… As well over 100B a year is spent by international travelers just to the US a year, we view the airlines as missing out a chance at a 5 to 10 percent commission from sites like Commission Junction… Hopefully with SkyMall being out of business, we can finally create a Cabin Entertainment and Marketplace  to truly provide billions in free revenue to airlines.“

Another savvy IFExpress reader’s opinion seems to be along the same lines and noted:

· S/M Items not unique in the Marketplace, and those attracted to such merchandise can probably get it cheaper on the Internet via such net retailers as Amazon.  [Price as well as shipping]

· Those airlines (Delta; US Air; etc.) who canceled their ‘subscriptions’ to Sky Mall probably didn’t get the revenue [Sharing] they were promised from SkyMall, as their total sales dwindled these past few years. And, in parallel, the product producers in the catalog probably didn’t get the revenue for each advertising dollar they were paying SkyMall to be in the catalog.  [when was the last time you saw Neiman Marcus in SkyMall?]

· Greater ‘entertainment’ options by those passengers targeted by SkyMall: the savvy and high earning passengers — who travel and used to buy stuff – can more easily download entertainment; catalogs; and information onto their own devices and are less enticed to explore the on-board magazine for merchandise or sales.

· Competition (at least that I have seen for the ‘foreign’ carriers) from the airlines’ own sales/marketing catalogs (e.g. JAL, SIA, BA, AF, Lufthansa, ANA, etc. etc.).  These catalogs might offer small savings due to duty free and can cater to ‘off shore’ customers much easier. In the case of ANA and JAL, they offer on-site delivery of goods as soon as the passengers deplane at the arriving airport (if the merchandise is not readily available on the plane, from local stores/stock)

· Greater Availability of RF bandwidth on Internet equipped a/c means less need for bored passengers to skim through the printed page.

Obviously, our readers have a pretty good handle on the issues facing SkyMall during the last couple of years. We wonder if the company could have done anything to avoid the situation?

Lets take the IFE vs connectivity argument a bit farther and to that end: after we sent out a few questions to readers about the subject of fliers knowing what to expect in the way of IFEC and how that affects ticket decision. we got a few good answers back – here is a good one:

Q: If you were the traveling public, how then do you know who has what, and do you care?

ANS: “For the traveling public, it’s much harder to determine which IFE supplier is on which airline.  Good, and Bad systems, get press/media reviews and you can read complaints about IFE on the Internet – rarely compliments.  Word of mouth, as in advertising, is strong, but usually for frequent fliers.  But as you noted in your text:  IFE isn’t exactly high on anyone’s radar:  behind costs; schedules; meal; seat comfort (which seems to be a growing sore point – pun intended – to many airline travelers); and just plain friendliness and attention by flight attendants.”

Q: Our guess is that connectivity is the “who-has-what” hot ticket today, not entertainment!

ANS: “I would agree. And as you know from my previous comments, I think the IFE company that focuses on connectivity and content will survive and thrive.  IFE companies need to evolve to help the airlines expand their offerings and content and functions which allow the tech savvy passengers to use whatever device they wish to bring onboard:  laptops; tablets; cell phone; etc.  IFE companies focused more on HW will wither and die.  Wireless connectivity will supersede wired.  But most of all, the IFE companies need to keep and increase their relationships with content providers.  Initially, it is/was with studios and record companies, but you will probably see announcement (some already) of IFE companies securing deals with the likes of Netflix; Google; HBO; Showtime; PBS; You Tube; etc.”

Q: We are beginning to think that personal devices have removed that requirement  – because if the plane doesn’t have what I want, Ill take out my headphones and iPod, or iPad and not worry about it.  Do you agree?

ANS: “Yes, fully agree.  If the airlines don’t have the content, the passengers will bring their own.  I suspect the company that can allow the passenger to download latest content at the airport (if the passenger hasn’t already done so at home or office) ahead of the flight will continue to grow in size and profits.  Companies just need to find the right revenue model.  [Must be some good MBAs out there working that aspect?!!]”

While discussing Inflight Entertainment subjects with some knowledgeable experts, we got side-tracked on the subject of “How do you know who (airline) has what IFEC” and one person sent us to the Alaska Airlines website that perfectly describes their wireless connectivity and entertainment solutions for guests flying with them. This “Beyond Entertainment” link should interest a lot of our readers.

If you are up to speed on the Marriott Hotel chain Mi-Fi blocking history, you might want to read Ned Levi’s opinion on user Wi-Fi vs hotel Wi-Fi service. Arguments on both sides may show up elsewhere and the issue is more than money.

In an Aviation Week Viewpoint article, Capt. Bob Colvin lays out the need and development logic for a “truly long range 757 replacement.” Read it for the aircraft design analysis..this pilot knows planes.

Congratulations to STG Aerospace’s new Engineering Director, Neil Thomas!

And finally, the IFExpress solution to SkyMall’s exit, we call it “Amazon Plane”. And yes, it does not exist today. We put our heads together over a few glasses of wine and came up with a new Duty Free solution that will probably never be implemented but the issue of lower cost booze can be a motivator. First you start with the concept of Duty Free Booze, then you add on-aircraft and/or in-Duty Free Shop ordering and paying, and lastly, Amazon fulfillment services. Got it? No more carrying around booze and gifts that can’t go through TSA – Amazon Plane gets you your stuff when you get home!