Inmarsat is to co-operate with Deutsche Telekom to provide broadband access on commercial aircraft in European airspace through a combination of satellite connectivity and a ground-based mobile phone network with Lufthansa Group in line to trial the system.

A "European Aviation Network" will jointly be developed to provide passengers with internet access "similar" to "high-speed broadband at home", says Deutsche Telekom, which argues that the use of groundstations in addition to satellites will provide "cost-efficient and future-proof" solutions for airlines.

Aircraft flying at altitudes up to 10,000ft will connect to the ground network, while flights above that level will utilise both satellites and the ground infrastructure, Deutsche Telekom indicates. Cabin systems will automatically switch between these networks, with "no impact or interference" for onboard services, it adds.

Alluding to the fact that Europe has some of the world's most crowded airspace, Inmarsat chairman Andy Sukawaty says: "With this integrated network, we can meet the need for capacity, flexibility and quality of service, including the ability to expand quickly to anticipate growth in demand."

Lufthansa will trial the technology from 2017. For the summer 2016 schedule, the group will equip short- and medium-haul aircraft to provide passengers with broadband access for their digital devices via Inmarsat's satellite services. This will include aircraft at the German mainline and sister group carrier Austrian Airlines.

Citing "customer preference", the group says that mobile phone calls will not be enabled via the broadband connection.

Lufthansa will be the first European network carrier to offer passengers broadband access on short- and medium-haul flights, it says.

Source: Cirium Dashboard