JetBlue commits to LiveTV email service
AFTER nine months of trials New York-based low-fare carrier JetBlue has committed to a fleetwide implementation of the inflight email service offered by its LiveTV subsidiary.
Also selected by Continental Airlines for its domestic fleet, the service has been trialled aboard a single JetBlue A320, nicknamed BetaBlue, since December of last year. It is based on the 1MHz of air-to-ground spectrum that the airline bought in the same 2006 auction that provided Aircell with the capacity needed for its Gogo passenger broadband service, currently being trialled by American Airlines. In full commercial service the LiveTV offering will be supported by the former Verizon Airfone network, which Florida-based LiveTV acquired this summer.
JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger announced last week that the trial had been a success and that the service would be rolled out across the airline’s fleet – which currently numbers more than a hundred Airbus A320-200s and 35 Embraer 190s – from next year. “The focus will be on free email for everyone,” says LiveTV spokesman Mike Moeller.
As implemented on BetaBlue, the service allows passengers to use their WiFi-enabled devices to send and receive email free of charge via accounts with Yahoo! Mail, Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Windows Live (Hotmail, MSN) and AOL. They can also send and receive Yahoo! instant messages, and users with WiFi-enabled BlackBerrys can access their BlackBerry accounts.
The JetBlue decision reflects the quickening pace of connectivity adoptions in North America and elsewhere. In June Continental said that it would implement LiveTV email along with inflight television in its Boeing 737NGs – a total of 157 -700s, 800s, 900s and 900ERs currently in service, with 63 more on order – and 17 Boeing 757-300s.
The other US provider with hardware in service is Aircell, which last week announced that Air Canada had selected Gogo for its transborder flights, with a view to equipping its whole domestic fleet in due course. Also committed to offering the service are Delta Airlines and Virgin America, while American says it will go fleetwide if the current trial is successful.
Rounding out the North American picture are Ku-band satellite operators Row 44 – planning to launch trials with Alaska and Southwest Airlines in the coming weeks – and Panasonic, which says it will launch with an unnamed North American carrier in the first half of next year.
Elsewhere the leading providers are AeroMobile and OnAir, which are using Inmarsat L-band satellite capacity initially for GSM messaging, email and voice services but also have Internet access offerings in development.
ARINC/Telenor joint venture AeroMobile last week celebrated its first half-year of full commercial service. The company launched its onboard cellphone capability in March with Emirates, which now has around 20 aircraft equipped as it moves towards a fleetwide rollout. Besides Emirates, the first airline in the world to offer its passengers cabin mobile phone on a full commercial basis, AeroMobile has contracts with Qantas Airways, V Australia, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines, and says it is in advanced negotiations with another four carriers.
AeroMobile anticipates several more milestones in the coming months. They include the first line fit on a Boeing (a 777-300ER), the first delivery of AeroMobile technology incorporated with Panasonic Avionics’ eX2 IFE system, installations on other airlines’ 777s and on other Boeing types such as the 737, and the introduction of Inmarsat SwiftBroadband 432kbit/sec satcoms for the air-to-ground link.
TAM Airlines of Brazil last week became the latest carrier to sign up for Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir’s onboard cellphone service. The airline plans to offer Mobile OnAir, as the service is branded, from next year on its Airbus A320s serving routes in South America.
Mobile OnAir is currently being tested aboard a single Airbus A319 of TAP Portugal and is the subject of an increasingly long-awaited multi-Boeing 737 trial with RyanAir. The Portuguese airline’s six-month trial will be followed by an evaluation of passenger reactions and a decision on wider implementation. UK carrier bmi is preparing a similar campaign, and Air France concluded one earlier this year.
Other airlines linked with OnAir are AirAsia, AirAsia X, Jazeera Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian and Shenzhen Airlines of China. The company has also reached agreements on installation of its equipment aboard corporate and VIP aircraft with Switzerland’s Jet Aviation and German maintenance and modification provider Aviation Centre Cologne.
In the flurry of activity around the new connectivity services it shouldn’t be forgotten that many international carriers – Emirates included - continue to offer Inmarsat-supported in-seat phone, text messaging and email services provided by ARINC and SITA, parent companies of AeroMobile and OnAir respectively.
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