Copa Airlines Evaluating In-Flight Internet as Future Fleet Upgrade

Dennis Cary, SVP of commercial and planning for Copa Airlines

Copa Airlines is evaluating a future upgrade path to enabling in-flight internet across its fleet of more than 100 Boeing and Embraer aircraft. The Panama-based airline has lead Latin American carriers in on-time performance for five consecutive years, however none of those flights have occurred on connected airplanes asCopa currently only offers a variety of seatback and streaming in-flight entertainment.

That could change in the future, said Dennis Cary, SVP of commercial and planning for Copa Airlines, during an interview with the Global Connected Aircraft Summit at the the 2018 Boyd International Aviation Forecast Summit.

“Right now we don’t offer internet connectivity, but it’s certainly something that we’re evaluating,” said Cary. “Our goal is when we make that decision to get the technology and partner right, so that we have a sustainable product that we can offer.”

Among the factors Copa is evaluating is finding a service provider that can establish a price point that Copa’s passengers find affordable. He also wants to find a solution that is flexible and will not require major aircraft modification to enable future service upgrades.

Another challenge for Copa is finding a satellite service provider with seamless coverage through the areas of South America that it flies. The performance of aircraft antennas operating closer to the equator along routes in the Latin American region are challenged by skewing. The reception of the satellite signal for an aircraft operating closer to the equator is skewed because of its angle relative to satellites orbiting the earth.

“We haven’t yet found a solution that we thought was a 10-year solution. Satellite coverage has not been as robust in South America as North America or Europe, but that is starting to change. It’s something we constantly look at, we want to deliver the right experience in a sustainable way for customers. We haven’t gotten there yet,” said Cary.

Copa’s fleet currently sits at 101 total aircraft. The fleet includes 68 Boeing 737-800s, 14 Boeing 737-700s and 19 Embraer-190s, according to the airline’s second quarter earnings report. Cary said that on two of its most recently delivered next-generation aircraft, the airline took a step toward its future streaming strategy.

“We did put a streaming IFE product on board because we thought that is the way of the world, and it gives us a chance to get some experience with it and make sure on a small scale it works and customers like it,” said Cary.

In 2018, Copa has introduced the Copa Showpass, which allows passengers to access the airline’s library of movies, television shows, magazines and music on mobile devices. The content is accessed via Copa’s onboard Copa Intranet Wi-Fi network, which Copa stresses to passengers is not the same thing as the internet.

Using Copa’s mobile application or website, once connected, passengers can stream content from an onboard server. Copa’s Intranet supports Google Chrome and Safari web browsers. The system is being added to all new aircraft being delivered to Copa in 2018 to include the 71 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft it currently has on order.

Moving forward, Cary said the airline will continue to consider how it invests in upgrading to in-flight entertainment and eventually internet connectivity in the future. Right now, the airline sees mobile device IFE streaming as sufficient.

“It gives passengers the breadth of the content they would get with the seatback IFE, without the extra cost and the maintenance, etc., of the physical hardware in the seat. We like that, and we need to make sure we’re meeting our passenger expectations,” said Cary.

Cary also said the airline’s reviews of passenger requests and comments in recent years have not included demand for access to the internet. Continued passenger growth could eventually influence Copa to invest in in-flight internet as well. In the second quarter of 2018, Copa’s passenger servicing revenue increased by 14.1% to $26.1 million as compared to $22.9 million during the same period in 2017.