How much will cellphones be used in-flight?

Posted in Aeronautical, Inmarsat at 11:28 am by timfarrar

According to a recent Economist article Air France has found that “On a typical flight about 100 text messages were sent or received and ten megabytes of data transferred by a dozen BlackBerry users”. This level of usage seems very high, given that Blackberries can usually synchronize with 100kbytes or less of data and the usage level given here is 800kbytes per Blackberry. We questioned OnAir’s PR representatives and they confirmed that the data (which comes from the first phase of the Air France trial, before introduction of voice) was quoted correctly.

Inmarsat also stated on its Aug 6 results call that initial Air France trials had seen usage levels of around 300 minutes per day, so combined this would produce total end user revenues of well over $1000 per plane per day, significantly in excess of our expectations (and the Qantas trial which had data only usage of $100-$150 per day). However, we have heard from another source that usage revenues (for voice and data combined) on the Air France aircraft in the second phase of the trial were at a rather lower level of around $400 per day, very close to (or even below) our expectations.

We’re waiting to see if any more data emerges to clarify likely usage. As we’ve noted before, this is critical to determining the rate of installation, particularly on short haul aircraft, since airlines need to see a minimum usage of about $800 per day to make a profit after paying for the equipment and cost of flying it around. Only then will financially strapped airlines be willing to push forward with fleetwide installations in the current economic climate.

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