737 aircraft carrying the Minsheng livery. Just some of the many types the lessor owns and expects to add satellite connectivity to in partnership with FTS.
As the business aviation industry bounces back the need for in-flight internet services on board is proving to be compelling across the globe. And while China has generally lagged in delivering those connections on its domestic aircraft the country’s largest operator of private jets is finally ready to get online.
Minsheng Financial Leasing (MSFL) claims a fleet of more than 150 corporate aircraft in China and more than 90% of the country’s biz jet market share. It will partner with FTS to develop a full-scale connected aircraft and digitalization solution for MSFL’s current and future jet fleet. The effort covers satellite connectivity, inflight entertainment, cabin management and ground operations.
While the potential for connectivity on these business jets is significant, it will be some time before the fleet is fully fitted. The partnership is very much in the nascent stage of development, with the two companies beginning to build plans and concepts, not pushing implementations. FTS expects that a more firm timeline for equipping aircraft will come together in Q2 2021, with the actual installation work to follow.
As for what the on-board systems will include, that also remains to be negotiated. FTS activated a Ka-band solution with Qingdao Airlines in July 2020. But the company is also confident it can deliver Ku-band solutions if that better supports the aircraft route profile and capacity needs. FTS specifically notes that the wide range of aircraft models and home bases included in the MSFL portfolio will almost certainly necessitate flexibility in what solutions are delivered to the planes.
As with many early stage announcements, and with announcements about IFC in China more broadly, it is hard to know exactly how this partnership will play out. It is not exclusive for either party, but it is a “preferred” relationship, bolstered by FTS’s position as the only local supplier with a certified and flying solution today.
Many prior announcements about IFC in China came up short of the companies’ expectations. FTS and MSFL have the advantage of both being local and presumably better able to navigate the associated bureaucracy to see this deal to completion. And there’s a huge potential for all parties involved if they can execute on the plans.
Still, China has not made IFC easy over the years, lending some uncertainty to the future of the deal.
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