Air TV to deliver satellite programming to aircraft by 2005

26 July 2002

Just when you thought the aeroplane was the only place you could get away from satellite news and television entertainment … Air TV, a French-backed company, is out to change the landscape of inflight entertainment forever.

Owned by interests such as EADS, which owns 80 percent of Airbus Industrie, Alcatel and Ariane Space, Air TV is laying the groundwork to beam satellite programming into aircraft by 2005.

Which means by then you will be able to watch live news from networks such as BBC, CNN and CNBC Asia, depending on which content providers partner with Air TV.

“The idea behind this,” said Richard Stone, executive vice president-programming and content, “is a billion people travel every year and the only time a person can’t get satellite television is on longhaul aircraft. You can watch it almost everywhere but not on aircraft because there has been no satellite system to deliver news and entertainment.

“The airline industry has spent US$9 billion over the last five years to build inflight entertainment systems. There is sufficient infrastructure in place in the airline industry to make a viable business delivering programming by satellite.

“There have been tremendous changes in the way entertainment is delivered but content is still walk-on-board. It is the only large scale distribution that is powered by video cassette, not satellite.”

Stone, who spent the last 13 years with ESPN, said Air TV was talking to airlines in Asia, among them Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Japan Airlines, to seek a launch customer to trial the system.

In Europe, it will run initial tests with Alitalia and in Middle East, with Saudi Arabian Airlines.

“Our business is aimed at individual screens and currently there are 2,000 aircraft with individual screens. This will grow to 4,000 aircraft in the next three years,” said Stone. “There are also 80,000 ships at sea that we can target.”

When Air TV’s system is up and running, it will be able to deliver satellite television as well as data applications including high-speed email and Internet access.

According to Stone, satellite delivery to aircraft is now available in the US with airlines such as Jetblue and Frontier Airlines.

“The concept is being validated today in the US, and we want to take it global.”


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