Kieran Daly/LONDON

SWISSAIR HAS dealt would-be providers of terrestrial-based air-to-ground telephones a major blow by opting to fit its domestic European fleet with satellite communications.

It is understood, however, that Lufthansa is about to sign up to use the competing terrestrial flight-telephone system (TFTS).

Swissair's decision to equip its 29 Airbus narrowbodies with the Racal/Honeywell MCS-6000 multi-channel system makes it the world's first major carrier to put satellite communications (satcoms) on short-haul aircraft and constitutes an explicit rejection of TFTS technology.

The airline says that it turned down offers from TFTS providers which would have effectively given it the equipment for free, in favour of satcoms systems costing $448,000 per aircraft.

Explaining the airline's decision, Swissair manager of in-flight communications and telematics Karl Laasner says: "It was a clear requirement for us to have gate-to-gate coverage from day one which is not possible at all airports with TFTS - for example Geneva.

"Secondly, we said we wanted seamless service. Nobody could guarantee us that a handover over all the countries and different antennae and all providers is really going to work. Everybody promises it, but I don't think it is in place.

"Finally, we felt that some airports, especially in Eastern Europe and North Africa, will lack TFTS for a long time to come and we want the entire network covered."

Laasner adds that Swissair believes satcom will eventually be needed for air-traffic-control purposes in Europe, when it will bring extra economic benefits.

Lufthansa began technical trials with single-point TFTS provider Mercury FlightLink in 1994 and is close to a contract to use it on some, or all, of its 150-strong European fleet. Both companies decline to comment, although Mercury says that an announcement is due soon. Only Crossair and Air UK have so far agreed to use TFTS.

Source: Flight International