Honeywell trials mobile connectivity system on MAS

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Honeywell has provided upgraded satellite communications equipment to Malaysia Airlines to allow passengers to use mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) while on selected flights.

A trial of Honeywell's in-flight communications system began in January and will run through mid-2009 on a single Malaysia Boeing 777, which was already outfitted with Honeywell's satcom communications systems to provide digital voice and data communications, as well as flight deck connectivity with air traffic control.

"Recent routine maintenance checks provided an opportunity to implement the new lightweight data services capability, for cost-effective and seamless connectivity. The European Aviation Safety Agency and the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation provided aviation safety approvals," says Honeywell in a statement.

The new in-flight cell phone offering is supported by Inmarsat's Swift64 aeronautical service. However, in the future the same system will be upgraded to accommodate Inmarsat's higher-bandwidth SwiftBroadband. Arinc/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile is handling the interface and billing for Honeywell.

This is not Honeywell's first foray into in-flight connectivity for the commercial sector. A decade ago, the company was focused on bringing to airlines its Total Aircraft Information System (TAIS), including its "Inflightmail" service. But in February 2001 Honeywell suspended its TAIS airline activities, saying it believed the business case did not support the product for the commercial sector at that time.

"The business model doesn't make [commercial] sense. We are waiting for conditions to change," said Honeywell in 2001, adding that high bandwidth technology is crucial for the success of in-flight e-mail.

With improvements on this front, Honeywell, as the satcom provider, says it will be able to enable passengers to use their mobile and data phone services while the plane is in the cruise phase of flight.

"The Honeywell in-flight communications system is a tremendous advancement in improving passenger productivity and convenience," says Honeywell VP of airlines Mike Madsen.

He says the architecture of Honeywell's systems "allows for easy installation and future upgrades can be completed quickly, with minimal downtime for the aircraft".