Swissair is removing the satellite communications (satcom)-based in-seat telephones installed on its narrowbody Airbus fleet due reliability problems and a lack of passenger demand.

The in-seat phones will be removed from January, but one bulkhead-installed phone will remain on each aircraft, says Don McLaren, Swissair in-flight entertainment and communication specialist. Phones will remain on the long-haul fleet.

Call rates on the narrowbodies did not justify keeping the service, says McLaren. In addition, the service failed to meet Swissair's reliability requirements, with system availability at around 98%, he says. Swissair encountered a one-way calling problem, whereby one of the parties could not hear the other. Cabin equipment supplier AT&T Claircom, service provider Satellite Aircom and satcom avionics supplier Honeywell/Racal investigated the problem, but were unable to identify the cause.

Swissair became the first airline to equip a short/medium-haul fleet with satcoms when it started to outfit 29 Airbus A319s, A320s and A321s in a $13 million programme in October 1995. The airline's widebody fleet was already equipped with satcom telephones.

Swissair selected Inmarsat's Aero-H satcom service for its narrowbody fleet in preference to the terrestrial flight telecommunications system (TFTS) due to the global coverage of satcom. The airline expected to make a return on the investment within five years, but call rates never reached the five to seven calls per flight required, with the $7.50 per minute charge putting off many passengers.

Since Swissair outfitted its narrowbody aircraft for Aero-H service, Inmarsat has introduced Aero-I, which is designed for short/medium-haul narrowbody types, offering lower equipment costs and call rates than Aero-H. The competing TFTS service provider, Jetphone, is to withdraw from the market at the end of this year because it did not win enough business.

• Swissair is conducting a single aircraft trial of digital versatile disk (DVD). The two-to-three-month trial is operating in first and business classes only. Passengers are using individual Pioneer DVD players, with a choice of 10 films in first class and five in business.

Source: Flight International