bmi OnAir trial under way at last
UK carrier bmi has finally launched its long awaited trial of the OnAir onboard cellphone service. The first British airline to try OnAir, bmi will offer passengers text messaging, email and laptop Internet access on an Airbus A320 operating the Heathrow-Moscow route for the next six months.
Text messaging and email will be available via standard cellphones and PDAs, the Internet service through laptops fitted with GSM data cards.
bmi is the third carrier to launch a trial with OnAir, which is still waiting for its first full commercial implementation. Air France has completed a trial, TAP Portugal is in the middle of one and Ryanair has been talking a big game for months but has yet to make its move. Other carriers - AirAsia, AirAsia X, Airblue of Pakistan, Jazeera Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian, Shenzhen Airlines of China, TAM of Brazil and Wataniya Airways of Kuwait - have said they will implement, with Wataniya expected to lead the way next month.
The aim of the bmi trial, as in the case of the earlier efforts, is to allay concerns raised over the years in the USA about the potential for phone-induced disorder in the cabin. “It will help us address some of the social and etiquette issues attending the use of mobile communications devices inflight and provide valuable customer feedback,” says bmi managing director Peter Spencer. “This will help us decide how the service is developed and rolled out across the rest of our mid-haul fleet.”
He continues: “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.”
OnAir rival AeroMobile currently has its nose in front in the race to score marketing points. Last March Emirates began rolling out the AeroMobile service across its entire fleet to become the first carrier in the world offer onboard cellphone on a full commercial basis. Since then Qantas has said it will offer the service in its domestic fleet, and Malaysia Airlines last month launched a trial aboard a single Boeing 777-200 operating on regional and long-haul routes to Japan, Australia, the Middle East and Africa.
Existing customers of Malaysia’s mobile phone operators are using their own BlackBerry-type devices and mobile phones to send and receive emails and text messages, and to make and receive voice calls. “The trial is being conducted to gauge passenger behaviour and acceptability,” said Malaysia Airlines chief executive Dato Seri Idris Jala. “If the findings are positive, we aim to roll out the system in the remainder of our widebody fleet next year.”
New long-haul carrier V Australia, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines have announced that they will offer the service, and AeroMobile says it is in negotiations with another three airlines.