TAM Airlines has expanded its contract with OnAir, opting to bring the Airbus/SITA joint venture's in-flight connectivity system to 26 Airbus narrowbodies that fly routes in Brazil.

The first airline in the Americas to offer on-board mobile phone services, TAM has operated a single OnAir-equipped Airbus A321 since October 2010, as part of a planned four-aircraft trial.

Under the contract announced today, TAM will install OnAir's connectivity system on the additional Airbus narrowbodies - Airbus A319s, A320s and A321s following a successful pilot project.

A dedicated production line to install the systems will be established at the carrier's technological center in São Carlos, State of Sao Paulo.

Financial terms of the arrangement between TAM and OnAir have not been disclosed.

The connected aircraft are expected to start flying in the second half of this year.

"The high use of on-board connectivity by our passengers has encouraged us to invest further. We noted our clients want and need to be connected while flying. To that end, we are increasing the number of aircrafts with the OnAir system to offer our customers a more complete flying experience", says TAM marketing officer Manoela Amaro.

The carrier notes that the in-flight connectivity solution, which uses Inmarsat's L-band satellite-based SwiftBroadband aeronautical service, allows passengers to connect to a cellular network from their personal GSM handsets.

Passengers can make and receive calls and text messages, and use their Smartphones or BlackBerrys to access e-mails or surf the Internet. Usage is charged directly by the mobile network provider to the passenger's phone bill. Rates are set by his or her usual provider.

OnAir CEO Ian Dawkins says: "In-flight connectivity has reached a tipping point. It's now a must-have for airlines and no longer just a nice-to-have."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news