Chinese airline opts for in-flight mobile service

Shenzhen Airlines to install OnAir's phone service across its fleet of Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft by mid-2009.

China's Shenzhen Airlines has fitted its planes with communications technology that will allow passengers to use their mobile phones to make voice calls and send e-mail and SMS messages during flights.

The OnAir service is set to be installed across Shenzhen Airlines' full fleet of Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft by mid-2009. Three "demonstrator" aircraft are also being readied for the Beijing Olympic Games in August 2008.

OnAir said its equipment will be retrospectively fitted on Shenzhen's existing aircraft and line-fitted on new aircraft. The service is aimed at passengers with smart phones or basic handsets.

The deal with Shenzhen is the third such agreement OnAir has secured that covers an airline's whole fleet, following a pact signed last summer with low-cost carrier Ryanair and an agreement in June this year with AirAsia. The Ryanair in-flight communications service is due to go live by the end of this year, according to an OnAir spokesman, and the AirAsia service is slated to launch in early 2009.

OnAir's service is also being tested by Air France, the UK's BMI and TAP Portugal on a single aircraft in each airline's fleet.

"China is a significant and fast-growing aviation market, and we are proud to be able to deliver our innovative services that will provide increased levels of passenger services and additional revenues," Benoit Debains, chief executive of OnAir--which is a joint venture between aircraft manufacturer Airbus and airline industry IT body SITA--said in a statement.

Shenzhen Airlines operates more than 130 routes within China and to Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam. It carried more than 7 million passengers in 2006.

OnAir's onboard equipment incorporates technology from Tenzing, the company that pioneered in-flight e-mail, with Inmarsat providing the satellite communications.

Natasha Lomas of reported from London.