Virgin Australia has burst the bubble of those hoping for in-flight iPads and 3G access, telling ZDNet Australia that it has no plans in the near future to deploy such technology to its passengers.
"The short answer is no," Virgin Australia said in a response to questions yesterday, a denial that comes after the airline's new 737-800 aircraft were spotted sporting satellite communication (SATCOM) equipment capable of supporting 3G voice and data.
FlightGlobal noticed last month that the antenna attached to Virgin Australia's SAT-2200 communications equipment would be capable of connecting passengers to GPRS and voice communications in-flight, with cellular service provided by global SATCOM partner Inmarsat.
However, Virgin Australia said yesterday that the Rockwell Collins-made SAT-2200 gear is for flight deck navigation use only.
"SAT-2200 is designed to maintain communications without pilot intervention during all flight phases. Handover between satellites and spot beams is accomplished automatically," Virgin Australia said in a statement.
Virgin Australia also told ZDNet Australia that there are no plans in motion to deploy iPads as in-flight entertainment equipment, unlike low-cost competitor Jetstar, which has had an iPad plan in the pipeline for some time.
Jetstar went to trial for the iPad entertainment units last year and had aimed for a December 2010 deployment. The low-cost airline now refuses to speculate on a possible release date, although information around the device modifications have been leaked by Jetstar project partners.
Virgin Australia's decision to forgo in-flight 3G and iPads is likely to disappoint some Australian travellers.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) approved the use of in-flight mobiles just under a year ago after consultation with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
Many international carriers offer in-flight communications services, with the most recent offering coming from Singapore Airlines' roll-out of in-flight 3G on the Airbus A380, 340-500 and the 777-300ER aircraft. Cathay Pacific, Emirates and some Chinese airlines will offer a similar service from next year.
Telstra joined the in-flight 3G advocates in May when its head of spectrum policy group Brian Miller said that current restrictions for phones aboard flights were "overly conservative".
"There's a large travelling business population ... that could be a whole lot more productive if this was possible," Miller said at the ACMA's RadComms conference in May.