BA in talks over pioneering onboard internet deal

British Airways is in advanced discussions to be a launch customer for fast internet access on European short-haul flights.

The airline is negotiating with UK-based satellite operator Inmarsat, which is proposing to launch the European Union-wide aviation service in 2016, according to the Financial Times.

However, the launch is dependent on the company obtaining regulatory clearances in the 28-member states.

Inmarsat is proposing to spend up to $450 million on a hybrid system involving satellite and mobile phone networks to power the service.

Inmarsat is making its move after looking at the rising popularity of an in-flight Wi-Fi service provided by US aviation communications company Gogo to airlines on US domestic routes.

AT&T announced plans in April to launch a rival service to Gogo in 2015.

Andrew Sukawaty, Inmarsat’s executive chairman, said its planned service on European short-haul routes should support download speeds enabling travellers to watch video on their smartphones, tablets and laptops. The service could also support phone calls, if regulators and airlines agree to this.

He said the service should at least match Gogo’s prices, citing how it charged passengers $5 for one hour’s internet access, and $60 per month for unlimited usage.

Inmarsat is in talks with five other European airlines about using its service on short-haul routes.

BA currently provides text, email and internet access on just two aircraft running business class-only flights between London City airport and New York.

The carrier’s head of product Kate Thornton said BA would start with a service on its domestic routes, “giving our customers the internet access they expect on the ground while in the air”.

Internet access on aircraft has been available for about a decade, but much of it has been slow, and services vary widely between airlines.

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