OnAir's inflight connectivity products are currently flying with 21 airlines across the world. Our products enable passengers to use their own mobile phones, smartphones, tablets and laptops in exactly the same way as they do on the ground, either through the onboard cellular network or the onboard Wi-Fi hotspot. We also provide on-demand entertainment solutions, such as music, videos, newspapers and magazines with OnAir Play.
Q1 Who is behind OnAir?
A1 OnAir was formed in 2005 by SITA and Airbus, drawing on the strengths of the world's leading provider of IT and telecoms solutions for the air transport industry, and the aircraft manufacturer with the most modern and comprehensive product line on the market. OnAir provides services for commercial aircraft as well as for VIP/business jets, and cruise ships. OnAir is now under the full control of SITA.
Q2 What is OnAir's vision?
A2 By 2015, OnAir will be the benchmark for global inflight connectivity solutions.
Q3 Where is the company located?
A3 OnAir is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, with operations in Dubai, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paolo and Seattle.
Q4 What role did Airbus play in the joint venture?
A4 Besides bringing its wealth of industry expertise, Airbus manages the certification of OnAir solutions with aviation authorities. Airbus installs the equipment during the production of the aircraft (linefit) as Seller-Furnished Equipment (SFE), and offers a Service Bulletin (SB) for retrofit installation on in-service aircraft.
Q5 Do passengers want to use their phones on the plane and how do they use it?
A5 We are becoming increasingly dependent on our mobile devices in every facet of our lives, with recent research even showing 35% of US smartphone users look at their phones before getting out of bed in the morning. As the use of dedicated apps and portals proliferates, people are using apps for a wide range of everyday activities, and that is particularly true of traveling. For example, more and more airlines are providing mobile check-in and boarding passes. And booking travel, hotels and restaurants using smartphones is becoming much easier, with around six in ten smartphone users having downloaded travel related apps. People use their phones to find restaurants and check their flight status, as well as to book hotel rooms and flights.
OnAir enables passenger to remain connected throughout their journey. Our experience shows that, when inflight connectivity is available, people use it in the same way as when they are on the move. There is a seamless transition between a taxi, the train, the airport and the plane.
Mobile OnAir and Internet OnAir have been flying for over four years, including nearly two years of both products combined. Our products have been selected by more than 60 customers, of which 21 are currently in service on six continents.
Using OnAir products is simple. Mobile OnAir works in the same way as international roaming: passengers simply turn on their phone and start using it. All costs are included in their regular bill, as with roaming.
Internet OnAir is an inflight WiFi hotspot, which passengers access as they do a terrestrial hotspot.
Q6 What is the future for the inflight connectivity market?
A6 As the inflight connectivity market matures, a central focus will be on ensuring passengers can use inflight connectivity wherever and whenever they are flying. OnAir is therefore focused on providing consistent global coverage.
That means we need to provide these services across all aircraft types: our recent A380 announcements show the progress we are making on that front and in fact OnAir’s products are now flying in nearly half of the world’s A380 fleet. OnAir connectivity is already available on all aircraft in the A320 family, the A330 and the Boeing 737. We will soon be deploying on the Boeing 777 and 787, with the A350 to follow.
It also means we need to have regulatory approvals and roaming agreements in place worldwide. We are constantly adding more and more countries to our list; Azerbaijan is the latest example. With authorisations from over 100 countries and roaming agreements covering 3.3 billion GSM subscribers, OnAir has the widest geographical reach of any inflight connectivity provider.
The third piece of the jigsaw is global connectivity, which is why OnAir uses Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband, as well as developing a deployment path to GX Aviation, Inmarsat’s Ka-band solution, which will be launched in 2015.
Q7 What products does OnAir offer?
A7 OnAir offers Mobile OnAir and Internet OnAir for passenger use. OnAir also offers Link OnAir, a managed satellite connectivity service which enables customers to deploy other value-added applications such as live text news, telemedicine, and Electronic Flight Bags.
Q8 What is Mobile OnAir?
A8 Mobile OnAir is a service which allows people to use their mobile devices onboard an aircraft in the same way as they do in foreign countries (international roaming).
Q9 What is Internet OnAir?
A9 Internet OnAir allows passengers to logon to a WiFi hotspot in the aircraft.
Q10 What is OnAir Play?
A10 OnAir Play provides on-demand entertainment content, such as audio, videos, newspapers and magazines.
Q11 What is Link OnAir?
A11 Link OnAir enables airlines to use OnAir’s SwiftBroadband connection for third party applications.
Q12 Are your products available independently?
A12 Yes, aircraft operators can choose to deploy either Mobile OnAir, Internet OnAir, or a combined service. Operators using Mobile OnAir can also choose to turn off the voice element of the Mobile OnAir service, for example during the plane’s local night.
Q12 How do users access the services?
A12 Passengers using mobile devices simply switch them on and start using them, in exactly the same way as international roaming. Likewise, using the Internet is exactly the same as logging on to a hotspot on the ground. Passengers turn on their WiFi-enabled device, such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and open up their device’s wireless connections and log on to the OnAir network. They then follow the simple steps to access the Internet. As with a terrestrial network, they simply enter their credit card details and start surfing.
Q13 Are users able to access services during all phases of the flight?
A13 Yes, apart from critical phases of take-off and landing. Airlines, however, can choose to turn off the voice element of the Mobile OnAir service, for example during the plane’s local night.
Q14 What service agreements do passengers need?
A14 To use Mobile OnAir, passengers just need a standard international roaming service with their home mobile network operator (MNO). For Internet OnAir, passengers pay using a credit card, just like any hotspot.
Q15 Are all mobile phones able to access the Mobile OnAir service?
A15 All GSM capable devices can use the service, which accounts for around 80% of the world’s mobile phones.
Q16 Is Mobile OnAir available regardless of the passenger’s home operator?
A16 Yes, provided the passenger’s operator has a roaming agreement with OnAir. OnAir has established roaming agreements with 375 of the world’s mobile network operators, covering over 3.3 billion GSM users worldwide.
Q17 Do you support prepaid GSM?
A17 Yes, provided the subscriber service subscription allows international roaming and the passenger’s operator has enabled prepaid roaming with OnAir.
Q18 Do you support 3G phones?
A18 3G phones revert to their 2.5G functionality (GSM and mobile data) when connected to Mobile OnAir.
Q19 Is internet browsing available through mobile phones?
A19 Yes. Smartphones can be used for data browsing over Mobile OnAir data service. WiFi enabled smartphones can also be used to access Internet OnAir.
Q20 What security measures are included in the Internet OnAir service?
A20 OnAir uses Secured Socket Layer (SSLv3.0) to protect any and all personally identifiable information (PII) submitted via a browser. In addition, personal registration information is protected by the passenger’s user ID and password, so that others cannot access it.
Q21 What device operating systems are currently compatible with Internet OnAir?
A21 The Internet OnAir service is not OS-specific, and works with any operating system.
Q22 What Web browsers are supported by Internet OnAir?
A22 On laptops, OnAir supports modern versions of: MS Internet Explorer; Firefox; Safari; Opera. On Wi-Fi enabled handheld devices, OnAir supports modern versions of: Internet Explorer Mobile; Opera Mobile; Safari browser and BlackBerry®
Q23 Are airline passengers disturbed by other passengers’ voice calls?
A23 OnAir’s services have been in operation for over four years and no problems have been reported. We should not forget that an aircraft cabin is already a noisy environment, so people talking on the phone doesn’t make much difference. And phone calls tend to be short. Airlines always have the option of turning off the voice element of the service, for example during the plane’s local night.
Jim Eagles of the New Zealand Herald, who has often raised concerns about the potential of disturbance caused by mobile phone use on planes, recently wrote about OnAir’s service on Air New Zealand and said, “No actual passengers have got in touch to say they had been outraged by neighbours shouting into their mobiles.”
Billing & pricing
Q24 What are the end user charges and are they listed on board?
A24 Mobile phone end user rates are determined by the passenger’s home mobile operator and are in line with standard roaming charges and specific home MNO rate plan. That means prices can vary and passengers should ask their local operator for pricing.
Prices for Internet access are set by the airline and are available on board.
Q25 What system is required on board an aircraft?
A25 A connectivity system is required, which is typically made of the following components:
- For Mobile OnAir only:
A picocell, which is a miniature GSM cell
An onboard control equipment which ensures passengers’ GSM phones can only connect only to the on-board picocell and non GSM phones do not connect with terrestrial networks
− For Internet OnAir only:
A wireless access point
− For either service:
A server to manage the communications centrally, establishing calls over the air-to-ground link, and interfacing with aircraft systems.
An air-to-ground modem to allocate air-to-ground resources according to the demands of the server.
Q26 How does Mobile OnAir work?
A26 Passengers’ phones connect to the onboard picocell. This GSM cell is connected to the OnAir ground GSM infrastructure via the satellite link. The OnAir ground GSM infrastructure is connected to the public networks, both mobile and fixed.
Q27 How does the airborne system prevent mobile phones in use on the aircraft from detecting ground mobile networks?
A27 The onboard control equipment creates a radio frequency environment which isolates all mobile phones onboard from outside the cabin and, therefore, from terrestrial mobile networks. The picocell ensures that GSM devices transmit at a very low power level that prevents interference with the aircraft systems and terrestrial networks.
Q28 Are OnAir services limited to Airbus aircraft?
A28 No. Connectivity systems compatible with OnAir services have been certified for use on many types of aircraft – both private and commercial jets including Boeing and Airbus – for short and long haul as well as on smaller jets.
Q29 Who are the suppliers of the OnAir connectivity systems?
A29 They are three different suppliers of airborne connectivity hardware and software systems that can be installed on the aircraft to enable one or several OnAir products:
- Airbus Standalone GSM System
- Airbus ALNA System
- Thales TopConnect System
- TriaGnoSys GSMConneX
Q30 How does the installation work?
A30 OnAir delivers proposals for products and services related to the supply and provision of connectivity.
OnAir’s turnkey solutions take into account installation design and hardware, as well as the certification package under EASA regulations through the TC (Type Certificate) of the aircraft or an STC (Supplemental Type Certificate).
Q31 What air-to-ground link is being used?
A31 For aeronautical services, OnAir uses SwiftBroadband, based on Inmarsat’s 4th generation satellite constellation, which provides global coverage. There is also a clear deployment path, if required, to increase capacity, both by increasing the number of channels available with SwiftBroadband and by installing Ka-band. OnAir is an Inmarsat Distribution Partner for both SwiftBroadband and Global Xpress, the Ka-band solution that will be launched in 2015.
Q32 What is the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband coverage area?
A32 SwiftBroadband covers the whole world, with the exception of the extreme poles.
Q33 Does Inmarsat SwiftBroadband provide sufficient bandwidth?
A33 Mobile OnAir requires very limited bandwidth from the air-to-ground link.
For Internet OnAir, the available bandwidth for each passenger depends on a number of factors, such as the avionics installed on the aircraft.
The fact that OnAir products are flying on nearly half the world’s fleet of A380s clearly shows SwiftBroadband works for the biggest aircraft. After hundreds of flights on the A380, we’ve seen that SBB is more than capable of absorbing the capacity. The average usage per passenger is below 20MB, which is actually in line with what we have seen on other OnAir-equipped long range aircraft, such as the A330.
Q34 Is SwiftBroadband scalable?
A34 Yes. Additional channels can be made available to cater for increased demand. Should future demand justify it, there is also a clear deployment path to GX Aviation, Inmarsat’s Ka-band solution, which will provide greater bandwidth.
Q35 Why were mobile phones been banned during flight?
A35 There was a concern that the use of mobile phones during flights could have a negative impact on the plane’s avionics. However, the airborne equipment used to enable the OnAir services ensures mobile phones emit very low power signals, as well as preventing any signals leaving the cabin. Approval from aviation safety bodies, such as the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), requires very rigorous testing and as with any new technology for any aircraft, the necessary permissions are only granted when there is demonstrably no risk to safety.
To date, we have regulatory approvals from over 100 countries as well as regional bodies such as EASA. The approvals we have mean our service can operate over five continents and the world’s oceans.
Q36 What regulatory issues needed to be solved for onboard mobile phone use?
A36 It is completely safe to use your mobile phone on an equipped aircraft as OnAir ensures that mobile phones onboard cannot attempt to log onto terrestrial networks, nor interfere with the aircraft. The Mobile OnAir system emulates a local GSM network inside the aircraft, thus requiring much lower transmission power from mobile phones, and staying comfortably within the power limits for safe operation of the aircraft. In consequence there is no risk of interference with cellular networks on the ground.
OnAir’s solutions are completely safe, having been rigorously tested and certified for use by the aviation airworthiness authorities.
Concerning the potential health hazard from electromagnetic radiation to passengers and cabin crew, OnAir takes this issue seriously and conducted a series of tests on two commercial flights in April 2008. The conclusion of these tests was that the Mobile OnAir service complies with WHO (World Health Organisation) standards and is therefore considered safe.
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