Emma Kelly/LONDON

AirTV is working with four unidentified airlines on its global satellite-delivered television service, which will be launched using a dedicated system by early 2003. Meanwhile, the company has added in-flight internet and e-mail to its services after an agreement with SITA, through which the aeronautical telecommunication specialist will provide the air-ground Inmarsat satellite link.

The AirTV team, which includes BAE Systems Canada, Alcatel Space and Aerospatiale, is planning to deploy a four-satellite system in 2001 and 2002 to provide airlines with global live television. Although many companies are offering or planning live television services, AirTV is the only one to see the need for a dedicated satellite system to meet the perceived demand (Flight International, 5-11 May, 1999).

AirTV has signed "heads of agreement" with four airlines "to start working together on the system", says John Larkin, chairman and chief executive.

AirTV satellite manufacturer Alcatel will start building the satellites at the end of September, when AirTV will have its first round of strategic partners in place, he says. Alcatel is investing $50 million in the $1.2 billion system, while antenna manufacturer BAE will invest up to $20 million, he adds. "In the next two to three months we will put together grade A corporations to become backers," says the AirTV chairman.

Although there is considerable airline interest in the proposed AirTV service because it will be global, some airlines are also sceptical of the business case. "How can the economic case for a dedicated system ever be there?" Patrick Brannelly, Emirates manager of passenger entertainment and communications asked at the recent World Airline Entertainment Association workshop.

Airlines will be charged a fee to use the system, which Larkin declines to outline in detail, but says: "We will have to provide a service that's similar in price to what airlines are paying for their content today." Larkin does not believe that airlines should charge passengers to use the system, which will provide up to 40 channels and will work off any in-flight entertainment hardware. Income will come from advertising in a revenue-share deal.

The SITA link will allow high data rate transmissions to aircraft via the Inmarsat satellites for e-mail and internet services.

Source: Flight International