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Air France Takes InPlane Text Messaging for Test Flight

Date: 12/29/2007 11:42:30 PM

Air France has become the first airline to offer international passengers email and textmessaging service thats based on standard cell phone technology.

The catch: Its only available on a single Airbus A318 aircraft in the Air France fleet, and passengers wont know ahead of time whether the service will be available on their flight.

"That will be a surprise every day," Marina Tymen, Air France spokesperson, said Thursday. "They will be aware of that just when they look at the information leaflet and the questionnaire [in the seat pocket] in front of them."

Another clue: a new "no mobile" light next to ones for "no smoking" and "fasten your seat belt."

Tower in the Sky
The sixmonth trial, which launched Monday on a ParistoWarsaw flight, will initially be limited to messaging and email on passengers cell phones with GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) technology, the kind prevalent outside the United States. Voice calling will come later.

The airline equipped the A318 with an onboard cell "tower," allowing phones to communicate without interfering with navigational equipment, officials say. The onboard tower connects with the ground through a satellite system.

The setup, approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency, was provided by OnAir, a Genevabased joint venture between Airbus and SITA, an informationtechnology company serving airlines.

First for International Flights
Australias Qantas Airways already has been testing a similar service on domestic flights using technology from rival AeroMobile, a joint venture of ARINC and Telenor.

JetBlue Airways started tests this month of limited email and messaging services in the United States, using a wireless WiFi system rather than an onboard cellular network, which is not yet approved by U.S. regulators.

Air France said it would await the results of the trial before deciding whether to equip the rest of its fleet.

Waiting in the Wings
Passengers will be billed directly by their cellular provider at rates officials say are comparable to international roaming.

OnAir plans to service European nofrills carrier Ryanair, British Midland Airways and Portugals TAP by mid2008. Later customers include Royal Jordanian Airlines, Chinas Shenzhen Airlines and Indias Kingfisher Airlines.

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