Saudi Arabian Airlines is to start testing AirTV services in the next two months on a single Boeing 747-400, with Alitalia to follow the Middle East carrier after recently joining AirTV's "select group" of airlines guiding the development of its live television, e-mail and internet services.

AirTV, which comprises Alcatel Space, Arianespace, CMC Electronics and SITA, is planning to offer in-flight services using a dedicated four-satellite system from 2003/04.

Saudi will flight test e-mail and internet applications this year, with these services provided by SITA data transmissions to aircraft via Inmarsat satellites. The AirTV system is being developed to provide more than 40 broadband channels of television 100 audio channels.

Alitalia will become a customer of AirTV as soon as the services are operational, but for now will help define the television content and other data services and plans to conduct flight tests, says AirTV.

Satellite design is complete and construction is to begin in September, says John Larkin, chairman and chief executive officer. The four S-band satellites will each have a capacity of 80Mbit/s, providing global coverage with the exception of the polar regions.

The first satellite is to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2003, with the second following in the first quarter of 2004, satellite three in the second quarter and the final satellite in the third quarter. Limited service will start in the second quarter of 2003, with full operational capability planned for 2004.

The group needs to raise a further $1 to $1.2 billion to get the system operational, says Richard Stone, executive vice-president of programming and content, who adds that it is confident of doing so "because the consumer market has changed".

Source: Flight International