Qantas will allow in-flight SMS and e-mail on select domestic flights by the end of the year after a successful trial of technology developed by aviation tech start-up AeroMobile.
In-flight e-mail and SMS will be available on a select number of domestic routes serviced by Qantas' fleet of Boeing 767s and Airbus 330s, available for travelers armed with a GSM mobile with roaming enabled or a GPRS-enabled data device, such as a Blackberry or laptop.
Qantas says it will initially only allow SMS and e-mail while at cruising altitude and not during take-off or landing.
The service will be available by the close of the year on flights that connect major capitals on Australia's Eastern seaboard, and flights from these capitals across the Tasman to New Zealand or across the continent to Perth.
"The highest demand for the service is on these routes," said Vanessa Hudson, general manager of products and services for Qantas. "But what we are saying is that we are committed to providing these products and services to the business market. Our goal is to roll this out to other routes, to make it a consistent product."
The service, trialled successfully between April 2007 and January this year by some 11,000 passengers on one of Qantas' Boeing 767s, works using pico cell technology developed by AeroMobile. The system interfaces with the air-to-ground communications system — usually satellite — used by most commercial airliners.
"We like to think of it as a global roaming country in the sky," Hudson said. "You use the system much as you would use your phone on the ground."
According to AeroMobile, the communications interface overcomes the long-feared potential for mobile phone signals to have an adverse affect on aircraft systems. The technology is designed to operate at a "minimum power level" to avoid any chance of disruption.
"We handed Q&A cards to all the customers in the trial, and not one customer had any concern about aircraft systems," Hudson said. "The [AeroMobile] system is well-tested. There is absolutely no question of safety."
The AeroMobile system also allows cabin crew to maintain some control of passenger connectivity — deciding when connectivity is allowed or indeed what type of connectivity, voice or data for example, is permitted.
The cost of the service will depend entirely on the roaming agreements individuals have with their carrier.