BA cools interest in mile-high Wi-Fi

In-flight broadband still too expensive and immature says BA CIO…

In-flight broadband still too expensive and immature says BA CIO…

British Airways has backed off from plans to roll out in-flight Wi-Fi broadband connectivity on its planes claiming the technology is still too immature and expensive.

Speaking to silicon.com at BA's annual internal IT fair at the company's Waterside headquarters, CIO Paul Coby said in-flight connectivity will have a role to play in the future but in the meantime he is happy to wait and see how the Lufthansa rollout goes.

Coby said the technology is likely to become mainstream only when the aircraft manufacturers include it in new planes as it is too expensive to retrospectively fit to an existing fleet.

"If you have to put your aircraft on the ground for 10 days it is going to be very expensive," he said. "It is up to Airbus and Boeing to integrate entertainment into the planes."

Despite his view, Coby believes there is an interesting business model for future in-flight connectivity and entertainment.

"People are on board for 12 hours who want to consume entertainment, buy things and be connected. There is going to be a viable model here but it is not BA's job to define it."

There are currently two models for broadband in the air. Boeing has developed the Connexion by Boeing service, which is being used by Lufthansa (ironically on its Airbus planes), and costs passengers around $30 for unlimited high-speed surfing for the duration of the flight. On the other side is Tenzing, the Airbus-backed service, which is quicker to fit - and therefore less expensive for airlines - but offers lower connection speeds.

Coby said BA will wait until the technology has matured and been signed off by the airline industry regulators and then only deploy it as part of the normal refit and replacement cycle of its aircraft fleet.

"It will come in but at the moment it's a 'nice to have'."

In the meantime Coby is happy to continue with initiatives such as BA's in-flight SMS service accessible from the in-seat phones but he also hinted that airline industry regulators are considering allowing the use of mobile phones on planes.

"Telecoms and integration companies are talking to the regulators about that," he said.

But he warned that not only would many passengers find that move too intrusive but there would need to be clear evidence from the appropriate experts that the use of mobile phones on planes is safe after airlines have spent years telling passengers it can interfere with navigation systems.