Middle Eastern carrier Emirates is claiming to have enabled the first authorised in-flight mobile phone call on a commercial service, following installation of technology developed by AeroMobile.

The first call took place today on flight EK751, an Airbus A340-300 operating between Dubai and Casablanca. Passengers were granted permission to make and receive voice calls and text messages.

AeroMobile chief Bjorn-Taale Sandberg says: “We have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that all safety and regulatory issues have been fully addressed, so we are pleased that Emirates has been able to join us in being first past the post in offering a full voice-call service.”

Emirates required three fundamental components to allow the call to take place: supplementary type certification for the aircraft – granted with support from the European Aviation Safety Agency – plus operating procedures approved by the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority, and telecom regulatory clearance for each country overflown.

This last point has been crucial to the take-up of the technology. Emirates is co-ordinating the deployment of aircraft fitted with the system to match routes on which telecom approval has already been secured – notably within the Middle East and towards Asia-Pacific destinations.

Emirates is fitting the equipment across its fleet because it has experienced strong demand for the in-seat phones already installed on its aircraft. The airline says its passengers make up to 7,000 calls per month using these phones.

Other Middle Eastern carriers – including Saudi Arabian Airlines, Royal Jordanian Airlines and Jazeera Airways – have also opted to install in-flight phone capability, either through AeroMobile or its competitor OnAir.

“We’re working on a substantial number of Emirates routes, on a city-pair basis,” says AeroMobile director of marketing David Coiley.

He says that while the A340-300 is deployed on a relatively limited number of routes, because there are only eight in Emirates’ fleet, the carrier has also equipped a Boeing 777-300 with the system, potentially offering broader availability.

“Emirates is rolling out the system in accordance with the heavy maintenance schedule of its aircraft,” Coiley adds, pointing out that installation of the system has not required an extension to the on-ground time.

AeroMobile’s system will automatically be configured to activate only on routes for which Emirates has regulatory clearance. The system is designed to come into operation at a minimum altitude of 3,000m (9,800ft), although Coiley says AeroMobile is looking at a threshold of 5,000m (16,400ft) to “give some wiggle-room” with respect to preventing interference with ground systems.

Emirates passengers are being instructed to switch phones to ‘silent’ mode during flights as part of the on-board etiquette. The airline’s cabin crew will also be able to monitor and control the system for the duration of the flight.

Later this year the system’s capability will be extended to enable Emirates passengers to use personal e-mail devices. It will also be integrated with Emirates’ in-flight entertainment system.

Source: flightglobal.com's sister premium news site Air Transport Intelligence news

Source: FlightGlobal.com