Irish budget carrier Ryanair hopes to roll out OnAir's on-board mobile phone service across its 170-strong fleet over the next 18 months to two years after finally beginning a trial of the system.
After a lengthy process to secure the necessary telcom and aeronautical approvals, Ryanair formally launched the service today in Dublin. It has started with 20 aircraft equipped with the service, operating primarily out of the Irish capital.
"We switched the system on 10 days ago and I can confirm the system works," said Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary at a press conference in Dublin today, saying he had sent several text messages and made voice calls on a flight from Rome already.
It marks the largest roll-out of the service to date for OnAir, which has seen single-aircraft trials from Air France, BMI and TAP Portugal and recently went live on Kuwaiti start-up Wataniya. Ryanair deliberately wanted a large number of aircraft equipped before launch so it could manage passengers' expectations of its availability.
"We don't want to over-promise," says O'Leary. "On about 80% of the Dublin flights you will generally be able to use the service. It's only 20 out of 170. But we have an aggressive plan to fit on the rest of the fleet over the next six to 18 months. We have started with 20 and we expect to increase this to about 50 within the next six months."
He adds: "It is a trial. If for some reason it proves unsuccessful we may take the decision not to roll it out. But I suspect it will be successful. Both we and OnAir share confidence it will be rolled out across the fleet. I think there is an enormous appetite for this."