Ryanair has fitted 15 aircraft with technology that will allow passengers to make in-flight calls, starting in July.“We’re fitting the first aircraft with these black boxes,” said Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. “If you turn on your mobile currently, it hunts down to get a signal from the ground, which can interfere with the aircraft’s communications - this shoots signals up to a satellite so it doesn’t interfere with electronics.”
Technology that directs mobile signals via a satellite will be fitted on the 15 trial aircraft, although mobile use will remain banned on other flights because the signals interfere with aircraft control systems.
The boxes can handle up to six simultaneous voice calls and unlimited texts at any give time, and passengers will be charged the usual roaming rate abroad - Ryanair will take a slice of the international call rate.
“The charge you pay will be the international roaming charges - we will then get a percentage of that paid to us because it’s our black box and our aircraft - so you won’t pay any more than you would do normally travelling abroad,” said O’Leary.
“It will start off slow, it’ll take a period for some acceptance [to grow] and then it will go like a rocket. I don’t think there’ll be a lot of voice telephony - although you’ll get a lot of incoming calls - [but] I think where it will take off is people will send text messages saying ‘just taken off’, ‘on time’, ‘just coming in to land’ - all that kind of stuff.”
As people become used to using their mobiles on board aircraft, he said Ryanair could feasibly make a lot of money from the service.
“If we’re carrying 60m passengers, and if we’re making on average €0.10 per passenger on every flight, it multiplies into very significant income over time.”
The carrier plans to allow mobile use on 50 aircraft by March 2009.