Ready, set, chat: AeroMobile supports commercial voice-call first

I haven’t written about one of my favourite subjects – in-flight connectivity – in what feels like ages. But I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to say a big word of congratulations to Arinc/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile, which is now enjoying visible gains from its hard work after the first authorized in-flight mobile phone call was made on an Emirates flight. Passengers were able to make and receive voice calls as well as use text messaging on today’s A340 flight between Dubai and Casablanca.

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To be precise, folks have already proven that the technology to support cell phone usage in-flight actually works and is safe. You can read all about their efforts here. But this authorized call is a milestone of sorts, and could herald a whole new world of in-flight chatter whether you like it or not (but come on, deep down you want it…you just don’t want your neighbour to have it).

As Flight’s article today points out, Emirates required three fundamental components to allow the call to take place: supplementary type certification for the aircraft – granted with support from the European Aviation Safety Agency – plus operating procedures approved by the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority, and telecom regulatory clearance for each country overflown.

AeroMobile’s data service has already made headlines. A trial onboard a Qantas Airways 767-200 proved so successful that the Australian carrier agreed to move forward with a roll-out of in-flight mobile email and text messaging on some flights.

However, AeroMobile is not the only company bringing connectivity to portable devices. In fact, it faces stiff competition. In June 2007, OnAir, established by SITA and Airbus, received EASA certification for its airborne cellular equipment, following successful earlier tests by Airbus. OnAir has secured some pretty big customers, including launch customer Ryanair.

It’s clear that Europe and the Middle East are ahead of the game. If you’re flying in the USA, you may be waiting a while for the same in-flight privilege. At present, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and FAA restrict airlines from allowing airborne use of cell phones.

The USA is, however, moving forward with trials of WiFi-based services. JetBlue is offering some basic connectivity, but look for a wider offering on American Airlines’ domestic 767s – as facilitated by AirCell – in the near-term.

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