Inflight connectivity takes off in the Middle East

2009 was the year of inflight connectivity in the USA with the rollout of Aircell’s Gogo inflight Wi-Fi on nearly 700 U.S domestic aircraft (roughly a quarter of the domestic fleet). Inflight Internet access is now being offered (or will soon be offered) by 10 North American airlines. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a similar development is taking place. Airlines such as Emirates and Wataniya currently offer GSM-based connectivity on cellphones and pda’s, and several carriers in the region will follow during 2010, with onboard cellular as well as Wi-Fi access. 

Introduced in March 2008, passengers on 70 Emirates aircraft (out of Emirates’ 145-strong fleet) can currently use their cellphones and pda’s to make voice calls and send sms-messages. Emirates says 200 flights a day throughout 55 countries are currently mobile-equipped and each month passengers send and receive over 140,000 sms texts. The airline is installing the Aeromobile system at 2 to 3 aircraft a month and by mid-2010 will also add GPRS technology to its cellular service, providing pda users who need a quick internet fix with a limited Internet connection. Aeromobile together with Panasonic will also equip Turkish Airlines with full inflight broadband when the first of the airline’s 12 new B777-300ERs and 10 A330-300s enters service in the fourth quarter of 2010.

Inflight connectivity provider OnAir, meanwhile, has signed up nine airlines from the Middle East and Northern Africa, noting that “in the Middle East, it’s becoming something that you must have in terms of passenger service.” Three airlines in the region currently offer OnAir’s mobile service – Kuwait-based Wataniya Airways (four aircraft), Royal Jordanian (four) and Qatar Airways (one), while Oman Air has just introduced mobile as well as Wi-Fi connectivity to passengers on board its new A330’s. 

OnAir says log-on rates for Wataniya and Royal Jordanian are 20 to 25 percent with “Wataniya doing the better of the two because it has a fleetwide fit – passengers know they will have the service on board and plan accordingly.” Qatar Airways in 2009 said that it will install Mobile OnAir across its fleet of 20+ narrowbody Airbus aircraft, and since the carrier’s B777 fleet is reportedly already wired for the OnAir system, it will also offer the service as soon as the antenna is certified. Qatar expects its entire fleet to be connected by 2014. Oman Air says it will equip all its A330s with Mobile OnAir and Internet OnAir through to mid-summer. 

Hard on Oman Air’s heels are Saudi Arabian Airlines and Egypt Air, which have plans to install OnAir’s full connectivity suite on the eight A330s each carrier will be receiving, from respectively April and August 2010. And to complete the list: Libyan Airlines will see Mobile OnAir installed on its new fleet of seven A320 aircraft which will started to get delivered during 2010. Another Libyan airline, Afriqyah Airways, will install Internet and Mobile OnAir on its A330 fleet and Mobile OnAir on its Airbus A320/A319 fleet, while Kuwaiti low-cost airline Jazeera Airways says it will retrofit six A320s with Mobile OnAir and have it installed on a further 34 A320s on order. 

Update 18 March 2010: Aeromobile has just shared detailed statistics how its mobile connectivity service is doing onboard Emirates aircraft. For example, over 11,000 mobile voice calls were made/received to the carrier’s 70 connected aircraft in February 2010 alone.


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