Qantas pilots in-flight SMS

National carrier Qantas has been given the green light to start testing in-flight mobile phone services. Over the next three months, passengers on one Boeing 767 plying domestic capital cities will be able to send and receive SMS and e-mails. International roaming costs will apply.

update National carrier Qantas has been given the green light to start testing in-flight mobile phone services.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) late yesterday gave the thumbs-up for a limited evaluation of GSM mobile phones and GPRS devices, but only for one commercial aircraft.

According to a Qantas spokesperson, the three-month trial will involve a Boeing 767 plying domestic capital cities.

Qantas has decided to limit the pilot to e-mail and text, and disable voice services. The spokesperson said global roaming rates for SMS and e-mail will be charged, and added that once the evaluation ends, Qantas will decide if voice calls should be tested.

"We're just starting this so we'll see how it goes," he added.

Qantas said passengers wanting to send or receive an SMS will need international roaming activated, and a GSM mobile phone. To send or receive e-mail messages, a GPRS-enabled device would do.

The carrier first flagged plans to conduct the trial in August. Telstra, Panasonic Avionics and AeroMobile will be part of the exercise.

"We have asked our business travellers about the concept, [and] the overwhelming majority felt the service was a good idea, particularly e-mail access.

"This evaluation is the first step towards building a product which will support our customers' business and communication needs into the future," Lesley Grant, Qantas group general manager (Customer Product and Services), said in a statement.

ACMA has granted Qantas a 12-month licence to test mobile telephony on-board. "Qantas can decide when and how often trials are conducted within this period," ACMA spokesperson Donald Robertson said.

British-based AeroMobile is leading the way in in-flight mobile phone use. Late last year, Emirates appointed the company to offer talk and text services for one of its Boeing 777s but the service has hit a brick wall due to lack of regulatory approvals.

Earlier this month, federal regulators in the US said it will drop an inquiry into relaxing a ban on in-flight mobile phone usage.