It's no longer a question of "if" airlines should bring connectivity on board their aircraft, but rather a question of "how". So said Oman Air chief executive Peter Hill at the 18th Annual Conference of "The Future of Air Transport" held on 29-30 November in London.
Oman currently offers OnAir-supported in-flight mobile connectivity and Internet. The carrier holds the honorable distinction of being the first in the world to offer both services, although the latter comes at a rather hefty cost of $29.95 per 26MB at data rates of up to 432 kb/s (see all price points to the right).
During his speech, Hill acknowledged that the connectivity service received an "initial surge" due to the novelty, followed by a fall in use, a story first reported here. But he says the carrier has seen "steady, sustained growth" from month two.
Hill says mobile phone use is greater than broadband (I wonder if this has something to do with the fact that Oman if offering a metered service) and that SMS messaging is used more than voice calls. Oman is also seeing "more business demand than leisure demand" and "surges of activity at end of holiday periods".
Furthermore, says the Oman Air CEO, "Over the next year or two, many other carriers will offer connectivity to their customers and the speed of technological development will see enormous possibilities open up."
Here are some of Oman's expectations:
The timing of Hill's comments is interesting, because, as he was discussing how carriers will offer higher-speed solutions in the coming years, Lufthansa was already launching in-flight high-speed Internet on its overseas flights, setting the standard - again - for high-speed Internet on long-haul routes.
But, with Hill expecting "enormous possibilities" in the coming years, I wonder if Oman doesn't have its own longer-term plans for bringing high-speed Internet to passengers.
The carrier may need to think seriously about doing just that, since Bahrain-based Gulf Air has become a customer of Panasonic's Global Communications Suite, which includes high-speed Internet.
Gulf Air joins a growing list of international customers for in-flight high-speed Internet, among them Turkish, Cathay Pacific and subsidiary Dragonair, and the aforementioned Lufthansa.
In any case, Hill's presentation, titled "In-flight entertainment: Fees or Free", is instructive on a number of levels. Indeed, one thing everyone seems to agree on (right now) is that passengers should pay for in-flight Internet on long-haul flights. Lufthansa is charging 19.95 euros for 24hr of its service, for instance.
You can access Hill's entire presentation here. Peter Hill presentation London.pdf
(All slides courtesy of Hill's presentation.)