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Benoit Debains, CEO of in-flight mobile phone developer OnAir, on why airlines want to install their systems.
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Benoit Debains, CEO of in-flight mobile phone technology developer OnAir, explains why airlines are keen to install the systems on their planes.

What kind of mobile phone technology will be available on flights?

It depends on the capability in the aircraft. The passenger inside the aircraft will be able to use his phone or Blackberry as if he were in the office or at home. The technology is extremely simple and allows you to use your phone inside the aircraft, providing the plane is equipped with the right systems.

 

There will be situations where people book their flights based on whether or not in-flight mobile phone technology is available.

Which Middle East airlines will have this technology?

We are using the latest technology, which is produced by Inmarsat [mobile satellite communications developer]. It will run at 132kb per second, with another solution expected to provide even better capability at 332kb.

For carriers like Oman Air, the mobile phone systems will be capable of reaching 432kb. This enables you to have 12 or 24 voice codes operating at the same time and full blackberry capability, making it possible for passengers to browse the web or download files.

Air France is using this technology, but others will soon follow.

Within four months we will have four more involved, such as TAP Portugal, BMI, Ryan Air and Shenzhen Airline. Oman Air will probably introduce the technology next year, while Royal Jordanian Airlines is also keen to install the system.

Is there much demand from Middle East airlines?

Of course. We are talking to many airlines but I'll only talk about deals when they are done.

How expensive is this technology?

There are different ways to introduce it. One way, which the airlines favour, is to install the system during aircraft production, so the planes will be immediately equipped with the right technology.

The cost of this equipment will be included in the aircraft's price, so it's a big advantage because you get 20 years financing for both.

How did you know demand for this system was high?

Market research was carried out and we found there was a lot of interest. But there has been some debate over whether passengers want a full service involving text messages, Blackberry usage and phone calls or just SMS.

There were concerns about the level of noise in the cabin if all services are available, but this isn't an issue. There are only two airlines with voice systems, which are Air France and Emirates, and we've believe it's not as big an issue as we first thought.

It's up to the airline to decide if and when you can use the system. The phone calls function, which can be de-activated, has to be tested to see how passengers react.

We can't prevent passengers from talking when sitting next to each other, so what happens with phone conversations remains to be seen. This is an emotive issue but tests are taking place to see how it works.

Which phone companies are you working with?

We are making deals with all the phone companies because as a phone operator OnAir is unique. Our customers are the phone companies, so we're negotiating with them and have already signed deals with 10. We'll secure many more as we introduce the service in the region and then Asia.

What type of mobile phones will passengers need?

As a passenger, you will need to have an international roaming phone. The traveller could fly to Geneva from Abu Dhabi and pay the same rates on the plane as if he were in the UAE capital.

There are, for example, several options at the airline's discretion to restrict services to outgoing calls only.

Will this service be more popular among business travellers?

I can imagine there are some people who absolutely need to be reachable. Stocks and shares across several markets are constantly shifting, so they will want to have access to information immediately.

There will be situations where people absolutely need to stay in touch and book their flights based on whether or not in-flight mobile phone technology is available.

Apart from being able to reach people during flights, the service will also enable the airlines to provide messages to passengers about their flight schedules, reservations and connections.

The passenger can use his phone, so the airline knows where he is and can give him information about different services or flights.

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