The race is hotting up to be the first to offer onboard mobile telephony, with OnAir, the joint venture established by SITA and partners Airbus and Tenzing earlier this year, and rival AeroMobile, a joint venture between Arinc and Telenor, vying to be first past the post.

According to OnAir head of regulation Andrew Charlton, the company aims to launch service in the second half of next year. The company has letters of intent with at least two airlines and is focusing first on services within Europe.

AeroMobile is on track to enter service early in the first quarter of next year. Arinc’s director of air ground services David Coily says a launch customer is in place, which he expects will be identified shortly. He is confident that regulatory approval will then be granted “for a number of long-haul routes operated by the launch carrier”.

Mobile phone use on aircraft has the potential to become a huge money-spinner, according to Uwe Lambrette of consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton. Potential revenue for voice services in Europe could reach €2 billion ($2.5 billion) by 2010, based on a calculation of call volumes, passenger numbers and the duration of flights around Europe.

There are various business models that are being considered by airlines as they seek to balance the desire for revenue generation with service provision. Lambrette predicts initial call charges at around €1 a minute, which could absorb some of the cost of installation, but adds that anticipated strong market penetration from 2008 would see call charges fall.

One possible spoiler is a download from software company Skype Technologies, which enables users of wi-fi laptops to access a service such as Connexion by Boeing to make free phone calls once they have paid the usage fee to access the internet in flight.

Source: Airline Business