BMI promises in-flight mobile trials

Both the business case and the social implications will be looked at next year

Passengers flying on UK airline BMI will be able to make in-flight mobile phone calls during service trials planned for late next year.

BMI intends to test the business case for fleet-wide rollout of an in-flight mobile service on one of its A320 Airbus planes flying out of London's Heathrow airport towards the end of 2006. BMI hopes to target premium business and leisure travellers to destinations in Europe and the UK.

BMI chief executive Nigel Turner said that as well as testing the business case, the trial will guide the airline on usage patterns and some of the social issues in using mobile phones on aircraft.

Turner said in a statement: "The OnAir offering opens up an exciting new era for business travellers allowing them to use their own GSM mobile phones and other GPRS-enabled devices such as the BlackBerry, to make and receive voice calls or to send and receive SMS messages or emails during the flight."

The trial is being done in conjunction with OnAir, the joint venture between Airbus and airline industry IT body Sita.

The OnAir equipment incorporates technology from Tenzing, the company that pioneered in-flight email. OnAir said it expects the onboard equipment to be fully certified and the necessary telecommunications regulatory approvals in place before the trial is due to start.