Dubai Air Show

Emirates to pioneer airborne mobile phone use

 - November 11, 2007, 7:18 PM

Emirates Airline is on track by year-end to be the first carrier in the world to allow its passengers to make calls using their own mobile phones with the AeroMobile system. Earlier this year, AeroMobile, a joint venture between U.S.-based Arinc and Norway’s Telenor, completed a successful trial of the system with Australian carrier Qantas, and it is now ready for full revenue-service use.

The pico cells that allow use of personal phones without causing interference with flight deck equipment are to be installed on Emirates’ Boeing 777s and Airbus A340s during C-check maintenance stops. The pico cell system allows mobile phones to operate with significantly reduced power output. Calls will be routed through Inmarsat Swift Broadband channels–each of which can support 14 users simultaneously. Cabin crews will be able to switch off the service at certain times during flights, or allow users to send and receive text messages but not make voice calls.

AeroMobile is still seeking regulatory approval from telecommunications authorities in individual nations for its system to operate in their jurisdictions. For example, 18 different countries have had to give their blessing for the service to be active throughout a flight between Dubai and London. AeroMobile director of marketing and strategic relationships David Coiley acknowledged that the recent decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to defer approval of in-flight mobile phone use has probably set back service entry in the U.S. market by another two years at least.

Meanwhile, rival service provider OnAir– jointly owned by Airbus and SITA–recently announced fast-growing Indian carrier Kingfisher Airlines as its latest customer. Its services are due to start next year.