Communications specialist ARINC, better known for its cockpit services, is expanding its activities into the passenger cabin through an alliance with UK telecommunication giant BT.

Under the deal, ARINC will be the preferred distributor of BT's aeronautical services in the USA. BT provides telephone, facsimile and in-flight entertainment (IFE) services to airlines, but concedes that it is "weak" in the USA, where it has no airline customers. In return, BT will be ARINC's preferred distributor of its voice and data communications services outside the USA.

The alliance focuses on high-speed data (HSD) service. BT is concentrating on e-mail and Internet-based services for its future expansion, and is partnering satellite communication hardware supplier EMS Technologies to provide HSD to the cabin to allow Internet connectivity.

The ARINC/BT alliance is the latest move towards the convergence of cabin and cockpit communication services. The move is a "key strategic initiative" for ARINC, says Pamela Ellison, director of data communications, who adds that the organisation has been considering it for some time. "IFE/passenger communications is a new and big focus for us. We are expanding our services to offer a complete package," says Ellison. ARINC has not been active in the IFE business. Its only involvement is the provision of technical assistance to Sky Media, which is planning to offer airlines in-flight live television services.

• Virgin Atlantic Airways is the launch customer for BT's Skyphone Mobile Connect.

The service will allow calls via cellular mobile telephone networks between the ground and passengers on Virgin flights via BT's in-flight Skyphone satellite communications-based telephony system.

In-flight telephones will take on the identity of the passenger's cellphone, with the service to be available from early next year.

Source: Flight International