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OnAir strikes first Internet blow with Qantas

23rd September 2008 - 01:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team

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QANTAS has become the first carrier to declare a firm timetable for introduction of an Inmarsat-based airborne Internet service. The Australian airline will offer OnAir’s inflight chat and email services on its first Airbus A380 from next month and plans to introduce Internet access from the middle of next year. 

The aircraft, which arrived in Sydney on Sunday and is due to enter revenue service next month, is equipped in all four classes with the OnAir system, which uses Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband 432kbit/sec service for the air-to-ground link. SwiftBroadband is currently available over the Atlantic and Indian oceans and is due to be extended to the Pacific next year. Qantas will then switch on the OnAir system’s Internet access capability.

When the aircraft enters service on Melbourne-Los Angeles on October 20 passengers in all 450 seats will be able to go online via the Panasonic eX2 in-seat IFE or their own laptops. They will have access to Web-based email, including Gmail and Hotmail, to receive and send messages, including attachments. They will also be able to chat with respondents on the ground via instant messaging services such as Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger.

The Qantas decision in favour of OnAir and its SwiftBroadband-based solution is a heartening one for the Inmarsat community at a time when much of the market’s attention has been grabbed by other providers. They include Aircell with its megabit-rated, terrestrially based Gogo service for North America, now being trialled by American Airlines, and Row 44 and Panasonic with their yet to be launched Ku-band satellite offerings.

It’s also interesting for the fact that Qantas has chosen OnAir rival AeroMobile to provide an Inmarsat-supported onboard mobile phone service for its domestic fleet.

Other airlines linked with OnAir – either as triallists or confirmed customers - are AirAsia, AirAsia X, Air France, the UK’s bmi, Jazeera Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Oman Air, Royal Jordanian, Ryanair, Shenzhen Airlines of China, TAM of Brazil and TAP Portugal. Besides Qantas and launch customer Emirates, AeroMobile has contracts with V Australia, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Turkish Airlines, and says it is in advanced negotiations with another four carriers.

On the Qantas A380s – the carrier is due to receive another two before the end of the year and a total of 20 by 2013 – OnAir connectivity will be just one of a wide range of amenities. The carrier is outfitting its aircraft with four classes masterminded by eminent Australian industrial designer Marc Newson.

“We have been working with Marc on the A380 design for more than five years, and the result, we believe, is the most innovative, functional and intelligent of any aircraft flying today,” chief executive Geoff Dixon said last week. “He has designed almost everything onboard, from the seats and fabrics through to the coat hooks, achieving a look of understated luxury through the use of custom-designed fabrics, innovative materials and premium finishes.”

The 450 seats are located in four cabins – 14 in first-class, 72 in business, 32 in premium economy and 332 in economy. The first-class suites each feature a widescreen 17in LCD screen for IFE, a touchscreen passenger control unit, and a B/E Aerospace seat that transforms from comfortable armchair to fully flat bed. The business seat is the latest generation of Qantas’ Skybed, now offering an extra-long and fully flat bed, a larger in-arm screen, extra storage and more privacy.

The premium economy and economy seats are supplied by Recaro (Inflight Online, September 19). The former features a fully adjustable in-arm widescreen IFE screen, the latter a sliding base that moves with the seatback to yield a more comfortable sleeping position.

Qantas’ A380 passengers will not want for opportunities to socialise. The upper-deck business-class cabin has its own private lounge with leather sofas, a self-service bar, and a large video screen. Premium economy also has a bar, while the masses of economy have no fewer than four.

Laptop power and OnAir connectivity are available in all classes, as is an on-demand IFE service offering more than a hundred films, 350 television programmes, 500 audio CDs, 30 PC-style games, and a selection of audio books, language tutorials, destination information, business education and radio channels.

Following its October 20 debut the A380 will fly Sydney-Los Angeles for the first time on October 24. Services between Sydney and London via Singapore will start next January.

The Shephard News Team

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