Jumbo offers internet above the clouds

Emirates Airbus with phone as you fly service.

July 20, 2010 17:54
3 minute read.
Emirates Airlines

Emirates 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Emirates Airlines will be the world’s first major airline to offer both mobile phone service and wireless Internet, the carrier announced on Tuesday.

The Dubai-based airline will provide full in-flight connectivity on all 90 of the carrier’s double-decker Airbus A380 jumbo jets beginning in June 2012.

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The in-flight connectivity system, provided by Swiss technology firm OnAir, will allow passengers on long-haul intercontinental routes to use their mobile phones, laptops, iPhones, BlackBerry devices and other smart phones for voice calls, SMS text messages or wireless Internet.

“Emirates is the world’s first major airline with a full fleet of in-flight connectivity services,” Ian Dawkins, CEO of OnAir told The Media Line. “At this stage this will also be the largest fleet of Airbus A380s with the full capability to use laptops, voice connectivity and SMS text messages on board.”

OnAir provides in-flight access to the web and cellular networks using Inmarsat SwiftBroadband, which provides high-bandwidth voice, data and Internet through satellites.

The company says concerns over the safety of in-flight connectivity services have been dealt with.

“The system has been fully certified and undergone vigorous testing,” Dawkins said. “There is no question about it being safe.”

Emirates will follow Oman Air, a small 19 aircraft regional airline became the first airline to fly passengers with both voice and Internet connectivity offered.

With a fleet size of 149 aircraft, plus an additional 174 on order, Emirates is the largest airline in the world by international seating capacity. It will be the first major international airline to offer a full suite of in-flight connectivity services.

“What’s happened is that once an airline takes it up and offers the service on a full fleet, other airlines start to recognize that it will soon be required,rather than something that is just nice to have,” Dawkins said. “You’ll see a major pickup in these kinds of services over the next 24 months.”

The carrier plans to begin installing the OnAir connectivity systems on its A380 aircraft at the beginning of 2011.

“We were the first to allow mobile phones on our planes, we now have 74 aircraft equipped with mobile phone services for passengers, and over 2.5 million people have switched on their mobile phone while on an Emirates flight,” Patrick Brannelly, Emirates' Vice President for Corporate Communications (Product, Publishing, Digital & Events) told The Media Line. “This OnAir deal really completes the deal.”

Wireless Internet is already offered by a number of US carriers, and in-flight cellular services have been offered in Europe, but to date only Middle Eastern airlines have offered both services together.

“MidEast airlines have the cash to spend on these particular passenger services,” Philip Butterworth-Hayes, an aviation expert and editorial director of PMi-Media Ltd. “They are in a very high growth mode, whereas legacy airlines in Europe and North America are consolidating.”

“MidEast Airlines are also buying new aircraft, and it’s much easier to install connectivity into new aircraft,” he said. “So if you have a lot of aircraft on order, it makes a lot of sense to put these services in. For airlines with older fleets, they would have to take their aircraft out of service for weeks to get them rewired.”

But Christian Lambertus, the CEO of AviationExperts, argued that there were less financial trends at play in the MidEast’s jump to adopt in-flight connectivity.

“Ten years ago it used to be East Asian airlines (Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific) that would take the lead in terms of innovations for in flight services,” he told The Media Line. “Now that seems to have shifted to Middle Eastern airlines.”

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