AirAsia X has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to equip its Airbus A330s and A320s with Inmarsat’s GX Aviation connectivity.

Under the MOU, which was announced April 4 at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, AirAsia X plans to connect its long-haul fleet and ultimately upgrade its short-haul fleet to GX Aviation too.

The carrier currently has no fixed inflight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system on its 30 long-haul A330s. Instead, AirAsia X passengers are able to access the group’s ROKKI entertainment platform through offline tablets that can be rented from the airline.

Conversely, on short-haul routes, Air Asia has already rolled out Inmarsat SwiftBroadband connectivity on more than 40 of its A320s. Passengers can access ROKKI content and connectivity via their own devices.

“Our A330s have no existing equipment on board, so once we have the supplemental type certification [for GX Aviation]—which I’m told we will get in October or November—we want to roll it out quickly because we are behind the curve,” AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail said, speaking in Hamburg. “We plan go full-fleet [with GX Aviation] in stages.”

While the final contract negotiations—including the price—are still in progress, Inmarsat Aviation president Leo Mondale said: “We’ve got most of the way through the material terms.”

The first A330s should be installed with GX Aviation this year and should go live in 2018, enabling passengers to access content thought their own devices.

Mondale said Air Asia is going through massive route expansion, which poses a “real challenge” for connectivity providers. But he added that Inmarsat has planned for this and is ready to execute. “It’s good when long-term partners still like you enough to extend and grow their relationship,” Mondale said, speaking at AIX.

AirAsia charges for short-haul Wi-Fi, but entertainment like films and music are free. On long-haul the GX Aviation, Wi-Fi is likely to be included in the airline’s premium product and paid for in economy. Ismail hopes this will increase the airline’s ancillary revenues from $60 per passenger to around $80-$90.

The airline remains committed to equipping some future A320 deliveries with SwiftBroadband, but it hopes to start the GX Aviation short-haul roll-out on newly delivered aircraft soon—especially on its A320neos.  

SwiftBroadband requires a different antenna to GX Aviation and will ultimately be phased out by AirAsia as the A320s are renewed and the antennae are upgraded.

ROKKI, an AirAsia subsidiary that launched in 2014, is the name of Air Asia’s IFE system and is the entity that has signed the GX Aviation MOU with Inmarsat.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@penton.com