Air passengers may be able to use Internet on-board and even make phone calls, beginning as early as next month, with security issues being sorted out for allowing use of Wi-Fi facility in the Indian airspace.
The facility will be available for domestic as well as foreign carriers flying in Indian skies, for which the technical and operational modalities are in the advanced stage of finalisation, officials said.
Globally, many airlines are already offering Wi-Fi for passengers, but they currently have to switch off the facility when they enter the Indian airspace.
Carriers will have the option to charge for the service though some of them can offer free usage up to a certain limit or in some specific flying classes.
Availability of Wi-Fi is also expected to provide local airlines with an additional source of revenues amid stiff competition in the Indian aviation market, which has been witnessing one of the highest passenger traffic growth rates in the world.
While the Civil Aviation Ministry has been pursuing the proposal of permitting use of Wi-Fi in flights on-board for “quite some time”, various security issues were holding up a final decision on the matter.
Indicating that “good news” is likely in coming days, Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey last night said the ministries of Civil Aviation, Telecommunications and Home Affairs have been working on allowing Wi-Fi use in flights.
“There is fairly a good chance that in 10 days, permission will be given to operate Wi-Fi in the Indian airspace,” Choubey said, adding that Cabinet nod might not be required for allowing Wi-Fi facility on-board.
On whether passengers will also be permitted to make phone calls, he indicated that it should be there.
“…if data is going to be allowed, it should be possible to make calls as well. We expect that to happen as well,” he said.
Currently, Wi-Fi services and phone calls are not allowed on flights flying over the Indian airspace.
About the security issues being discussed, he said the important thing is about monitoring “data and voice transmission” by the security agencies.
“Obviously, there are security-related issues. The three ministries of Civil Aviation, Telecommunications and Home Affairs are working on this and in 10 days, it should be possible for us to announce…,” Choubey said.
If necessary, agencies should have access to the details and if need be, it can be tracked, he noted.
“I must compliment the present DoT (Department of Telecommunications) Secretary… I have been chasing it for quite some time. I am obviously saying so on the basis of what Deepak (DoT Secretary) has told me,” Choubey said.
Once the government permission is in place, it will be up to the airlines to providing Wi-Fi facility in their flights.
Generally, Wi-Fi facility for fliers can be provided either through air-to-ground technology or satellite connectivity and the latter will be expensive.
Globally, some airlines are also providing on-board Wi-Fi services free of cost for a stipulated time and then the passengers are billed depending on their use.
Meanwhile, Choubey also expressed hope that time will come when providing Wi-Fi services could act as a differentiator among the airlines.