Flight passengers of India could in the coming months surf the web while flying, with the government finally warming up to the idea of WiFi - based Internet connections on flights, meeting a longstanding demand of both airlines and passengers.
A senior civil aviation ministry official said his ministry has approached the department of telecommunications (DoT) with the proposal and will make a formal announcement soon. "The DoT has already said (informally) the proposal is possible to implement," he said, asking not to be named.
DoT allots spectrum, or airwaves, capacity to operators to provide telecom and broadband services. In India, only foreign airlines such as Emirates, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines offer Internet connectivity on international flights.
Sanjiv Kapoor, COO of budget airline SpiceJet, said several airlines had expressed interest in the proposal.
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"It is a welcome proposal, it is allowed in many other places of the world. In the US these days, it is rare to be on a flight that does not have Wi-Fi," he said.
Kapil Kaul, South Asia chief executive of aviation consultancy Capa, said the development is good for customers, especially business travelers. Surfing the web on flights appeals to travellers because they can be more productive or fight boredom.
Like the use of mobile phones onboard even in flight mode, Wi-Fi and other technologies require regulatory clearances. Airlines typically provide Wi-Fi services by installing on board planes a server that hooks up with a ground-based mobile broadband network or links to satellites.
The number of commercial airplanes globally with Wi-Fi, cell service or both is expected to more than triple over the next 10 years to 14,000, with Asia spawning most of the growth, according to research firm IHS.
For airlines, desperate for new sources of revenue because of their wafer-thin margins, Wi-Fi will be a possibly lucrative service to sell. But globally, the service hasn't been a huge money spinner for airlines because equipping fleets with Wi-Fi, especially via satellites, is costly and few carriers have found a profitable way to cover costs.