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Airbus Partners with OnAir for Mobile Passenger Communications

Airlines ordering Airbus aircraft will soon be able to select OnAir services, such as onboard mobile telephony and Internet access, as standard options for new aircraft deliveries, it was announced today.

ÊNewly incorporated OnAir is a joint venture of Airbus and SITA INC, the IT solutions provider to the air transport industry. On January 27, the EU Commission’s Directorate General for Competition gave the go-ahead to the joint venture, which also includes the integration of Tenzing, the Seattle-based software company which pioneered in-flight e-mail.

“OnAir’s goal is to provide voice and data communications for short and long-haul flights on Airbus and Boeing aircraft in a manner that facilitates passenger choice and is economically attractive to both consumers and airlines,” said Francesco Violante, Managing Director of SITA INC and Chairman of the OnAir Board.

“We estimate that the number of passengers in the addressable market for onboard GSM telephony will be over 700 million by 2009. Meeting the communications needs of these air travellers will need to become part of an airline’s passenger service offer,” said Violante.

OnAir market research has identified in-flight use of mobile phones as the number one communications choice among airline passengers, particularly on short and medium-length flights.


OnAir is moving quickly to commercialise the onboard mobile communications service, following successful ground and in-flight tests of a GSM solution in 2004.

The only such tests to have yet been undertaken, Airbus GSM trials have demonstrated successful communication to and from personal mobile telephones on board to mobile and fixed telephones on the ground. Functional tests were performed in which several GSM telephones were used simultaneously for both voice communications and text messaging.

“Because of our partnership with the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer we are confident that we will be able to satisfy aviation authorities that it is safe to use our service on board aircraft over both land and water.” said George Cooper, a former British Airways pilot and airline management professional who is now CEO of the Geneva-based company.

OnAir and Airbus have now entered the development phase and are in the process of selecting suppliers for the different service components, in preparation for a commercial offer in 2006. Detailed announcements regarding the aircraft equipment, air-to-ground link and ground infrastructure components of the service will be issued throughout 2005, upon selection of the respective business partners.

“There is considerable excitement among airlines about the OnAir offering. ÊWe are sensitive to airlines’ need to keep onboard weight and cost as low as possible, and these are important considerations in the supplier selection process,” said Patrick Gavin, Airbus Executive Vice-President for Customer Services.

OnAir is also aiming to make the service as friendly and as transparent as possible for passengers. For example, onboard communications will be invoiced as part of the regular mobile operator or ISP bill, at international roaming rates.

Cooper also said OnAir was keenly aware of the social factors involved, particularly in the use of mobile phones on long-haul flights.Ê “We continue to research these issues but, in anticipation of such a need, our system will give cabin crew complete control of the system, allowing them, for example, to switch to SMS-only mode when it is “night” in the cabin.”

“At OnAir we believe that the extension of mobile communications to the aircraft cabin will become an important feature for both business and leisure travellers,” said OnAir Board member and SITA chairman, Paul Coby.

The OnAir service portfolio will allow airline passengers to use their personal devices, such as mobile phones, PDAs and laptops, to communicate in a variety of ways during flights, i.e. make and receive phone calls, send and receive text messages, read and send e-mail, access corporate networks, browse the Internet or chat. Some services, such as text messaging, are also provided through the in-flight entertainment system.

OnAir is creating a new market place by enabling air travellers to communicate with the ground during flight. Many business travellers would like to remain connected to their offices and customers even while flying and they want to use their own familiar and trusted devices.