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Aeroflot branches into in-flight mobile with Russian firm

Russian flag-carrier Aeroflot is to equip four of its aircraft with in-flight mobile communications capability developed by a domestic company.

Moscow-based mobile network operator MegaFon is to provide base stations to be fitted to Aeroflot's aircraft.

The first jet to be fitted will be an Airbus A320, with the initial installation completed by summer 2010.

Aeroflot will extend the service to an Airbus A330, and plans to equip two more A320s, by the end of the year.

The carrier says passengers will have access to mobile Internet and text-message services, and it intends to provide Wi-fi capability on long-haul aircraft.

Mobile communications and data services would be accessible to GSM users within the 1,800kHz band.

"Mobile telephony on board aircraft is a breakthrough for Russian aviation," says chief executive Vitaly Saveliev.

Russian legislation would allow passengers to use these services only when the aircraft reached an altitude of at least 3,000m (9,800ft).

MegaFonwas created eight years ago as the result of the grouping of several regional mobile operators. Its licence area covers the whole of Russia.

"We expect in-flight telecom services to achieve broad popularity among customers, especially business people for whom staying online is vital," says MegaFon chief Sergei Soldatenkov.

Communication services will be available to MegaFon customers as well as subscribers to foreign mobile operators which have roaming agreements with the Russian company.

Aeroflot has yet to indicate whether the agreement with MegaFon is likely to be extended to a greater proportion of the airline's fleet.

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