In-Flight Communications to Surge by '08

Air France, Ryanair, and others plan to test satellite technology for mobile calls. Expect greater Internet and e-mail access, too

Almost half of all airlines plan to offer in-flight mobile phone connectivity for passengers by the end of 2008.

The figures in the annual Airline IT Trends survey show an appetite for a range of in-flight passenger communications, with 59 per cent of airlines also planning to offer internet and email access by the end of 2008.

The in-flight use of mobile phones by passengers on short-haul airlines in Europe is expected to be approved by telecoms regulators by the end of this year and UK airline BMI has already signed up for trials of a satellite-based technology for in-flight mobile calls next year, along with Air France, Portugal's TAP and Ryanair.

Airbus is already planning to replace the out-dated illuminated 'no smoking' signs above passenger seats with 'no mobiles' to prevent their use during take-off and landing.

The Airline IT Trends survey also highlights the increasing adoption of self-service technology for passengers. Online check-in is now being used by 42 per cent of airlines and this is expected to increase to almost three-quarters (72 per cent) by the end of next year.

There has also been a huge rise in online bookings. A third of airline tickets worldwide are now sold online, compared with just 20 per cent last year, and 72 per cent of those tickets were sold through the airlines' own websites. The percentage of airlines issuing e-tickets has also doubled in the last year to 59 per cent, and this is expected to rise further to almost 80 per cent by next year.

Behind all this is a move to IP connectivity. More than 80 per cent of airline locations now have IP connectivity, and this is predicted to rise to 93 per cent within two years. Almost 80 per cent of airline systems are also IP-enabled and this is expected to rise to 87 per cent by the end of 2008.

Paul Coby, chairman of airline industry IT body SITA and CIO of British Airways, said airlines are on course to be the world's first fully web-enabled industry.

The survey is conducted among the world's top 200 airlines by SITA and Airline Business magazine.

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