Air France is to carry out a six-month single-aircraft trial of OnAir’s on-board mobile phone connectivity service next year, the third carrier to sign up for a trial and the first to take an aircraft line-fitted with the system.

OnAir, the SITA majority-owned partnership with Airbus which is developing a service allowing passengers to use their mobile phones during flight, last year identified TAP Portugal and BMI as the first airlines to sign up to trial the service. The two Star Alliance carriers are to retrofit three and two Airbus A320/321 aircraft respectively for three-month trials.

During the Aircraft Interiors exhibition in Hamburg, OnAir has revealed SkyTeam carrier Air France as a third participant.

It will carry out a six-month trial of the service on board an Airbus A318. “This announcement is the first line-fit and so is a major milestone in the development,” says OnAir chief executive George Cooper. “It prepares the ground for many types of aircraft to be similarly equipped.”

The trial, on European short-haul flights and services to North Africa, will take place next year and will help the carrier consider every impact the new service may have on the cabin environment and travel experience.

“One of the issues they want to gauge is passenger interest and uptake [in the service],” explains Cooper.

The French carrier is scheduled to take delivery of the A318 equipped with the OnAir system in March next year. Cooper says the precise date of the TAP and BMI trials is still being finalised, and that equipping the aircraft with the system will be timed to coincide with planned C-checks – which could see the trials start in the second quarter of 2007.

“The aim is, very shortly into 2007, that we will have the ability to retrofit and line-fit any member of the A320 family,” says Cooper, adding that retrofit capability on Boeing narrowbodies should follow in the second quarter of next year.

OnAir is initially aiming to implement its service on European short-haul operations using the new Inmarsat I-4 satellites. Work is continuing to secure the necessary regulatory approval from the telecommunication authorities for the service and Cooper says this is proceeding in line with expectations, adding: “We think there will be national licences [in place] to allow the entry into service in early 2007.”



Source: Flight International