BMI pioneers first in-flight mobile services

15 Dec 2008

Airliner BMI claims it is the first carrier to offer its passengers an in-flight communications service, including the use of SMS, access to the internet and email from laptops fitted with GSM data cards.

The service, which is being supplied by mobile technology firm OnAir, is being trialled for six months on a single Airbus A320 aircraft operating between Heathrow and Moscow.

However, while the service includes data and text services, it will not include voice until after a six-month trial is completed.

Irish passengers travelling with BMI to Moscow via London Heathrow will be able to experience the service during the trial period. The launch follows the granting of telecommunications regulatory approval by Ofcom in the UK.

“It opens up an exciting new era of travellers being able to stay in touch by text message and email whilst in the air,” said Peter Spencer, managing director of BMI.

“Our research tells us that our business passengers in particular have two key concerns – getting through the airport quickly and being able to carry on working during their journey, so we’re confident that many will warmly welcome this service.

“The trial will help us address some of the social and etiquette issues regarding the use of mobile communications devices in-flight, and provide valuable customer feedback that will be at the heart of deciding how the service is developed and rolled out across the remainder of our mid-haul fleet. We have chosen not to implement the voice-call option as part of the trial,” Spencer said.

Benoit Debains, chief executive of OnAir, said: “With the start of BMI’s trial, Mobile OnAir is now flying on two airlines in Europe, making OnAir the leading provider of in-flight passenger communications services.

“Mobile OnAir is the only service today which offers SwiftBroadband, and it has already flown to 53 cities in 24 countries in Europe and North Africa,” said Debains.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years