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In-flight Service Provider Lands Engineering Partner

Row 44, a Westlake Village-based provider of in-flight broadband entertainment systems, this month announced a partnership with an engineering firm it hopes will take the company to new heights. Row 44 has joined forces with Lufthansa Technik to enable its airline customers – Southwest Airlines and Norwegian Air Shuttle – to reduce the time and cost related to installing and maintaining its satellite-based broadband systems. “You want to have a partner that has global capabilities with what you are trying to do with a business plan and Lufthansa Technik fits that,” said John La Valle, the company’s chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Since Row 44 got off the ground in 2004, it has been intensely focused on expansion. This year, the company plans to announce another airline customer, La Valle said. Airlines increasingly are offering passengers in-flight entertainment options from Wi-Fi to seatback televisions that allow passengers to watch movies and TV, play games and more. Many of the airline industry’s biggest carriers offer service through Aircell, which provides in-flight broadband entertainment systems through air-to-ground frequencies. Aircell has relationships with Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, AirTran Airways, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, U.S. Airways, and Virgin America, according to its Web site. La Valle says Row 44’s satellite-based systems offer airlines unique benefits that they can’t get through other providers, such as Aircell. “We can go overseas, because we can take our service over water, and they can’t,” he said. Row 44 has partnered with Hughes, the extensive satellite network, to deliver services to passengers in any territory. The company uses its own test plane, located at the Camarillo airport, to tests its system under various conditions such as high turbulence, La Valle said. “On some flights, we’ve had more than 80 people using devices with no detriment to the session speed,” he said. Looking ahead, it will be rare for an aircraft to be without in-flight technology and entertainment for passengers to enjoy, said Jack Keady, an aviation consultant based in Playa del Rey. “Those (in-flight entertainment) companies are poised to grow faster than the industry itself,” he said. And as technology becomes more advanced, companies such as Row 44 may stand to benefit, Keady said. Row 44 currently employs about 15 people at its Westlake Village headquarters. The company also has about 29 employees spread among its offices in Las Vegas, Illinois and London. It has plans to open another office location in Asia within the next 18 months, La Valle said. Additionally, the company is looking to add positions such as software architects, engineers and analysts. “We will hire at least 30 people between now and the end of the first quarter in 2012 throughout all locations,” La Valle said. The company has come a long way in just a couple of years, he said. “Two years ago, we had no planes installed and now we have 80 Southwest planes,” La Valle said. Southwest spokeswoman Angela Vargo said one reason it chose to install Row 44 systems in its aircraft is because of the “robust bandwidth” it offers fliers. Another reason is that Row 44 allowed the airline to maintain “complete control of the product from pricing to promotion,” Vargo said.

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