Wi-Fi connections on aircraft will be normal in five years and all aircraft will be connected in a decade, according to OnAir chief executive Ian Dawkins.
However, only a minority of air passengers appear to use inflight mobile and Wi-Fi connections when available today.
Dawkins revealed as few as one in 50 and at most one in 10 passengers use their smartphone on a connected flight, “depending on the route”, when they have to pay.
He told the Sita aviation technology summit in Brussels: “Average use is 2% to 10% when people have to pay.” Dawkins said the proportion rises where Wi-Fi is provided free and suggested this would become normal practice in five years.
He conceded the technology “is quite expensive, so you have to think how you pay for it”.
However, connectivity would allow airlines to monitor and refine aircraft operations, he argued, suggesting: “The savings are in the cockpit.”
Queried about the return on investment of offering inflight Wi-Fi, Dawkins said: “You provide champagne on an aircraft. It’s about quality of service. But it’s not a nice to have, it’s a requirement.
“A few thousand aircraft are connected now. But in five years it will be normal and in 10 years all aircraft will be connected.”
EasyJet chief information officer Trevor Didcock told the summit: “We are looking at Wi-Fi on board.
“It is all about the cost. We’re watching it. If we can get to revenue neutral, we would do it. But we don’t see it as a ‘killer app’ yet.”