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Wataniya shaping up as OnAir launch customer
The Airbus A320s of new Kuwait-based carrier Wataniya Airways will feature OnAir mobile phone service and audio/video-on-demand IFE when the airline enters service in January. This timing makes it likely that Wataniya will be the first airline in the world to offer OnAir on a full commercial basis.
Passengers will be able to send and receive text messages and email with their mobile phones and BlackBerries. Wataniya, which will offer only first-class and premium economy service, will be the second airline in the region to provide onboard cellphone as a standard part of its product. The first was Emirates, which started equipping its entire fleet for the service of OnAir rival AeroMobile last March.
Other airlines besides Wataniya that have been 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. Ryanair is expected to start a trial with at least ten aircraft soon, but is typically vague about whether this will lead to a long-term commitment, and none of the others has yet launched a full service.
Wataniya is therefore shaping up as OnAir’s launch customer, a development that should come as no surprise in view of the fact that the airline’s chief executive, George Cooper, was the founding CEO at the connectivity company. “We’re extremely proud to be one of the first airlines in the region to allow passengers to stay connected via text message and email in the air,” he says.
Cooper describes the Wataniya offer as “a pre-eminent luxury travel experience”. The airline’s four leased A320s will be fitted with 122 seats – compared with a European standard of about 145 – divided between first-class and premium economy cabins. The aircraft will be fitted with an AVOD system – manufacturer so far unspecified – serving 10.6in in-seat screens. Also offered will be in-seat laptop power and ports allowing passengers to plug in their own iPods and other MP3 devices and play the content on the screen.
Both cabins will be fitted with leather seats from Recaro of Germany.
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