British Airways won't retrofit for mobile communications

Airline is planning to launch a mobile e-mail, Web browsing, and texting service on two new Airbus A318 planes this fall. But retrofitting old planes is too costly, CEO says.

British Airways will not extend in-flight mobile communication to any of its aircraft already in service, CEO Willie Walsh says.

The airline is planning to launch a mobile e-mail, Web browsing, and texting service from OnAir on two new Airbus A318 aircrafts in September.

However, it would cost the airline too much to fit similar systems to its current aircraft, Walsh said Wednesday at the Sita Air Transport IT Summit 2009 conference in Cannes, France.

British Airways

"We are not planning to retrofit the equipment to existing aircraft because we believe it will be too expensive," he said.

He added the airline currently has no plans to let travelers make mobile phone calls during its flights because its customers are not interested in such a service.

"The research we have done on voice tells us that the vast majority of customers do not want it," he said.

Sita, a company that specializes in airline IT and communication, said that its 2009 survey shows 70 percent of the 116 global aircraft carriers surveyed plan to introduce Wi-Fi and GSM/GPRS connectivity for short flights by 2012, and around 65 percent for long flights.

British Airways CIO Paul Coby predicted "exciting" new developments in in-flight passenger communications on new aircraft but warned it is essential for these communications to be "firewalled and separate from the cockpit."

He added that Sita is looking at how modern telecommunications capabilities could be used to automatically transmit and log flight data, such as that currently recorded on black box recorders, to airline databases.

"That is something we really want to be thinking seriously about with the new technology that is available," he said.

Nick Heath of reported from London.

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