Carrier to leapfrog others planning trials on individual aircraft with proposal to retrofit entire Boeing fleet

Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair looks set to become launch customer for OnAir's airborne mobile telephony system by dispensing with a commercial trial of the service.

Speaking at Aircraft Interiors Expo 2007 in Hamburg last week, OnAir chief commercial officer Graham Lake said that although Air France remained the first carrier scheduled to test the service on an Airbus A318, the timescale had slipped and the six-month pilot was not now due to start until summer.

Air France will operate the system on a new aircraft with the equipment factory-fitted and will, if satisfied, seek a retrofit solution for a fleet roll-out centred on the carrier's A318 fleet initially. The first three months will test data-only applications - SMS and email via BlackBerry - with a full service including voice to be tested from September onwards.

Ryanair, meanwhile, wants to start retrofitting its whole 200-aircraft fleet of Boeing aircraft from September, and start operating the full, dual complement of data and voice services by year-end on a number of aircraft operating out of London Stansted.

Airlines BMI and TAP also plan trials on Airbus aircraft, but these have been hampered by aircraft availability. OnAir's Lake says it is discussing with the airlines an appropriate C check window in which to fit the equipment and that three-month trials on both aircraft are expected to start during the last quarter of 2007.

"Both airlines continue to be actively engaged in implementing the programme," says Lake, who adds that aviation safety regulator EASA is expected to issue certification by the end of May.

Both OnAir and rival service provider Aeromobile report good progress in regulatory roaming approval, with Aeromobile's marketing director David Coiley reporting that consent has been secured from 30 countries.

Qantas last week started testing the Aeromobile data services on one of the airline's Boeing 767-200s with passengers on some domestic flights able to send and receive emails and text messages using their own mobile devices.

Over the next three months passengers travelling on this aircraft will be permitted to use a mobile phone or other mobile devices such as a BlackBerry to send and receive messages.

However, US Federal Communication Commission officials earlier this month suspended moves towards lifting the country's ban on the in-flight use of cellphones, citing "insufficient technical information" on whether their use on board aircraft "may cause harmful interference to terrestrial networks".

Source: Flight International