All airlines in India are interested in offering Wi-Fi on board but the pricing has to be right in order to ensure uptake in the country, according to connectivity solutions provider SITA ONAIR.
All airlines in India are interested in offering Wi-Fi on board but the pricing has to be right in order to ensure uptake in the country, according to connectivity solutions provider SITA ONAIR. The telecom regulatory body, TRAI, in its recommendations to the government recently allowed in-flight mobile telephony and Internet services but after providing a mechanism for lawful interception and monitoring of Wi-Fi in aircraft cabins to ensure safety. SITA ONAIR’s General Counsel, Oliver Drennan, told PTI in an interview that it is unlikely that the cost of accessing Internet in an aircraft would be as high as 20-30 per cent of the airfare. “Anybody who offers the service for a price that is unaffordable is not going to make it successful. Many ask why someone would offer in-flight connectivity for Rs 500 for a session when the ticket costs Rs 2,500. My answer is that I would not offer it at that price,” said Drennan. SITA ONAIR has been part of public consultations conducted by TRAI and has also been in talks with airlines for making in-flight Wi-Fi available.
It is the aircraft business arm of SITA which is the IT solutions provider for the air transport industry globally. SITA ONAIR has tied-up with satellite communication provider Inmarsat for providing in-flight broadband service. Drennan said airlines could look at different price modules to make the service available for their passengers, which could vary from free usage for all flyers to pay-per-use model. “If an airline wants to offer free Internet, there is a cost attached to it but there is also a benefit because it maybe something other airlines are not going to do. Equally, an airline could decide that it will offer access either free of charge or at a reduced cost to its premium class passengers or those involved in its frequent flying programme.
“A third way of doing it is that you offer it to your frequent flyers who pay for it through the points they have earned. One could also do a pay-as-you-go model,” Oliver Drennan said. Another way is to allow a third party to sponsor the service in return for advertisement, he added. The service will however become cheaper over the years as the demand for the service increases, Drennan hopes. In order to ensure safety, TRAI has mandated deployment of a gateway on Indian soil through which Internet traffic in an aircraft can be intercepted and monitored. SITA ONAIR says this is not going to be a challenge as it is already being done for many countries like the US, Australia and China.
“There are gateways in the world and there are known ways of building it. Yes, it takes time but that’s not a major issue,” Drennan said. He added that once the recommendations are turned into a policy by the government, SITA ONAIR is ready to provide in-flight connectivity “at the flick of a switch”, first for aircraft overflying India which already offer Wi-Fi on board but have to switch it off when they are in Indian skies, followed by Indian carriers, which have to be enabled with the technology and equipment required to offer the service. “(Following TRAI’s recommendations) we are now in the last leg of having an offer-able service.” With Wi-Fi on board, airlines are not only looking at providing entertainment in aircraft cabins for passengers but also at improving the productivity of its crew members by handing them over tablets that can not only make their jobs easier but also help them provide useful information to flyers by tracking their baggage.
“With the help of a crew tab a flight attendant can know if there is a piece of baggage that has not been loaded onto the aircraft and inform the passenger about the issue. Similarly, if a flight is delayed and there are some connecting flights that are going to be a little bit tight, with a connected crew tab you have a greater flexibility in managing that sort of a situation,” Drennan elaborated. SITA ONAIR offers in-flight connectivity to over 40 airlines operators globally and these include Emirates, Qatar, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, among others.