My company, OnAir, and other aircraft communication service providers, are enabling passengers to use their own mobile devices during flight.

People all over the world are travelling more – and the desire to stay in touch while on the move is growing.

Everywhere you see people in transit they are using mobile phones and BlackBerrys – from waiting rooms, cars, trains, buses and airports.

Until very recently, the one exception was on board aircraft. But after extensive development, testing and certification, this is changing as an increasing number of airlines launch inflight passenger communications services.

Now BlackBerry-type devices or a laptop fitted with a GSM data card can send and receive e-mails and text messages, access the internet and make and receive voice calls directly from onboard aircraft while in the air.

For users of the service, charges will appear on their normal mobile phone bill at rates set by their operator, which are similar to overseas roaming charges.

If you have not had an opportunity to use these services, you are not alone, as the industry is only just taking off.

A growing number of commercial airlines on every continent either currently offer inflight communications services or plan to offer them soon. These include Air Asia, Airblue, British Airways, bmi, Jazeera Airways, Kingfisher, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian, Ryanair, Shenzhen Airlines, TAM, TAP and Wataniya Airways.

British Airways recently announced plans to launch services beginning autumn 2009 on its new twice-daily, all-business-class route from London City Airport to New York City’s JFK Airport.

There are 12 other commercial airlines and private jet operators with aircraft equipped to launch mobile services in coming months.

Although concern has been expressed by some about the possibility of increased noise in the cabin caused by phone conversation, our experience in deploying the service has been overwhelmingly positive, with 80 per cent of passengers who have used the service wishing to see it deployed on the airline’s entire fleet.

Importantly, airlines can choose to offer inflight communications services whenever, however and wherever they want.

For example, the Mobile OnAir service comes with a special control panel that enables the crew to allow data transfer and SMS only at certain times. It is therefore very easy to create a “quiet time” on the night portion of an overseas flight when most passengers are sleeping.

According to a 2008 survey sponsored by Airline Business and Sita, an air travel communications specialist, 42 to 44 per cent of European airlines plan to offer some form of onboard mobile telephony within the next one to two years.

You may think that the global financial crisis would slow the adoption of inflight communications services. Not so. If anything, it is increasing the desire among both airlines and passengers to have these services onboard. Why? With recent volatility and the sheer pace with which major market changes have occurred, passengers feel a stronger need than ever to stay in touch.

For business travellers in particular, timely decisions and communications concerning high priority projects are critical.

Inflight communications enable them to work in real time, connect with colleagues, and to participate in business decisions while they fly.

For the airlines, inflight passenger communications offer an opportunity to enhance the travel experience.

Not only do these services help airlines differentiate themselves from competitors, they can also provide much-needed ancillary revenue.

With Mobile OnAir, for example, airlines receive a share of the communications revenue generated on the flight.

They can also use the technology to create their own inflight customer relationship management programme to increase loyalty and satisfaction among their premium customers.

Imagine, for example, receiving information on gate changes, connecting flights and lost luggage directly on your mobile phone while you are still in the air.

There is no doubt that inflight communications are transforming the air travel experience. Not only does it create a new way for us to stay in touch, it also brings a whole new meaning to “working on the plane”.

Whether it’s making time-critical business decisions in turbulent markets, calling home to say good night to our families, or managing travel arrangements on the move, inflight communications offer new benefits and new possibilities to all who travel by air.

Benoit Debains is chief executive of OnAir

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.

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