Air Transport World

Choose your pipeline: Internet, e-mail and soon personal cellphones will be available to airline passengers.(Inflight Connectivity)

George Cooper, head of airline operations and Aircom services for SITA, has a six-word business strategy: Voice and data, long-haul and short-haul, Airbus and Boeing.

"It's an approach that takes into account what people say they want," he says. "What do you as an airline manager want to provide?"

As an airline-owned business, SITA is in a realistic position to help answer that question. The company last month officially launched a new joint effort with Airbus and Tenzing Communications to deploy a consistent connectivity experience that includes low-cost, unencumbered use of personal cellphones in fight. SITA, in concert with Tenzing, already provides in-seat telephony, two-way SMS via the inflight entertainment system, e-mail and instant messaging from passenger laptops.

Cooper and SITA aren't alone in their thinking: In June and July, a watershed of "one phone goes everywhere" announcements preceded the Farnborough air show. Along with SITA's proclamation that passengers soon would be able to use their personal cellphones "onboard any aircraft, flying anywhere," vox provider AirCell said it successfully completed testing of an air-to-ground link that would allow passengers to use their "next-generation personal cellular telephones" onboard within 18-24 months. ARINC and its European mobile service provider partner Telenor announced a technology "breakthrough" that would allow passengers to use their GSM mobile phones on "any commercial flight," and American Airlines heralded a successful inflight test wherein passengers used CDMA cellphones and Qualcomm technology to "place and receive calls as if they were on the ground."

While platforms for Internet and email access continue to grow in the commercial fleet, largely via established competitors Tenzing/SITA, Connexion by Boeing and Verizon Airfone, there is optimism that regulatory and certification actions on tap will remove the barriers that prevent cellphones from being turned on inflight. …

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