Ryanair to offer inflight mobile phone calls


Just when air travellers thought flying couldn't get more tiresome, Ryanair decided to add a cacophony of loud mobile phone conversations to the mix.

The airline said yesterday it will become the first European airline to allow passengers to use their mobile phones and Blackberrys on board all its planes after signing a deal with inflight communications specialist OnAir.

While Ryanair passengers already deal with the hassle of being rejected from a flight if they don't check in at least 45 minutes before take-off and face a dash to their seats once at the gate, the decision to discard one of the world's last mobile-free havens is fulfilling air traveller's needs, according to George Cooper, chief executive of OnAir.

"Our research tells us that people are most likely to make voice calls on short-haul single aisle aeroplanes than on larger planes on long routes," Mr Cooper said. "Many business people now fly Ryanair and a journey on a short-haul flight tends to be part of a business day. Plus the people they want to talk to are in their time zone." Ryanair, which flies 371 routes across 23 countries, said OnAir will fit the first 50 of Ryanair's Boeing 737 aircraft with the mobile telephony system in the middle of next year, with the remainder of the fleet receiving installations from the start of 2008.

The system, known as Mobile OnAir, uses advanced lightweight technology to enable passengers make and receive calls, exchange text messages and connect to e-mail on portable devices. The calls and data will be connected via satellite to a terrestrial phone network run by Monaco Telecom, without interfering with the aircraft. Geneva-based OnAir is a joint venture between aircraft maker Airbus and transport IT infrastructure provider Sita.

Mobile phone operators will charge passengers rates in line with those for international roaming and customers will receive the charges on their monthly bills. The rates start at £1.20 (€1.78) a minute to make a call and £1 to receive a call, Mr Cooper said. Ryanair will receive a commission from OnAir from each call made by its passengers. A spokeswoman for the airline declined to say how much turnover it expects to make from its new revenue stream.

"The revenues generated by onboard mobile telephony will reduce our costs and help us to keep offering the lowest fares in Europe," said Michael O'Leary, Ryanair's chief executive.

While rival airlines including Air France are planning to test the system, Ryanair will be the first to install it without a trial, Mr Cooper said.

However, news of Ryanair's new mobile communications system comes less than two weeks after Boeing said it was scrapping its inflight internet service, due to insufficient demand.

When Boeing announced the project six years ago, it predicted the market for inflight internet access would be worth $70 billion over a decade. Boeing said earlier this month that the number of passengers using the service on an average flight amounted to little more than "low single digits."