Dubai-based Emirates, which is investing $27 million in the programme, had been tipped as a customer for the system after AeroMobile began transporting equipment for installation on Boeing 777-300 aircraft.
The Emirati flag carrier airline is expecting to commence mobile phone service on board a 777 in January next year once all the necessary regulatory approvals have been obtained.
Passengers are making around 6,000 calls each month, amounting to 13,000min of voice communication, from phones installed in the seats on Emirates aircraft – although users benefit from the airline’s strategy of offering subsidised rates.
But Emirates says that it believes travellers also want to be able to use their own mobile phones to make calls and exchange text messages.
“Our research tells us our customers would appreciate the option of staying in touch in this way,” says Emirates chairman and chief executive Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum.
“The option of mobile phone use will be available under guidelines that recognise and respect the privacy of all our customers.”
While the air transport industry has yet to confront the issue of social etiquette once passengers are able to use their own phones, Emirates says it will encourage passengers to keep their phone in silent mode while on board.
Passengers will only be allowed to use their phones once the aircraft is established in the cruise, and the overall number of simultaneous calls will – as with the in-seat phones – be limited to around five or six. Emirates will also control the AeroMobile system to ensure that voice calls are prohibited at particular times, such as during night flights.
AeroMobile president David Poltorak says: “We are delighted that Emirates has taken the lead in introducing our service across its fleet. We believe that the ability to communicate efficiently, easily and safely when on board flights will become an essential feature of business and leisure travel.”
Emirates and AeroMobile will also enable passengers to use a variety of hand-held email- and Internet-capable systems once communication equipment is upgraded to handle high-speed general packet radio service (GPRS) data. This is set to take place next year.