More airlines incl. Hainan Airlines expected to offer in-flight WiFi services
A survey involving 1,000 Chinese passengers shows that 83 percent of the respondents would like to pay for an in-flight WiFi service. The percentage is up to 90 percent among those aged between 25 and 34.
"We are not surprised about the huge demand for an in-flight WiFi service, because we noticed people are accustomed to keeping in touch with each other wherever they go," said Bao Yi, general manager, China, at Skyscanner Ltd, a global travel search site that released the survey report.
Zhang Jing, a 30-year-old office worker in Beijing, went to Hong Kong on a business trip in early June and sent a proposal to her client before she boarded her flight.
Her client replied with some changes that she was unable to access until finding a WiFi service in Hong Kong. It meant she had to work late into the night.
"If the flight offered a WiFi service, I would not have needed to work overtime after sleeping for three hours in the air," said Zhang.
Also the Internet will make the journey in the air more colorful for lonely travelers, she added.
Some main Chinese airlines are itching to offer an in-flight WiFi service, although they are still waiting for official approval.
Air China Ltd, China’s flag carrier, may launch its first flight supplying an in-flight air-to-ground WiFi service in one or two months, said an official from the company who declined to be identified.
The facility is already well prepared now and the carrier is just waiting for approval from the authorities, he said.
If it is approved, Air China will be the first Chinese airline offering an in-flight air-to-ground WiFi service.
Hainan Airlines Co Ltd, the fourth-largest airline in China, conducted a test flight with an online surfing service in February. The company is also waiting for the approval of the authorities.
China Eastern Airlines Ltd also equipped a Boeing 737 aircraft in September 2012 with the technology.
In-flight air-to-ground WiFi services are not rare among foreign airlines. The service is a weapon for airlines to compete with each other.
Air France-KLM Group started to test a WiFi service on its two Boeing 777 aircraft working on long-haul routes in May.
United Airlines Inc supplied a satellite-based air-to-ground WiFi service to an international wide-bodied aircraft in January. The airline plans to equipped 300 of its aircraft on its main routes with the satellite-based WiFi system by the end of 2013.
The Federal Communications Commission in the US also announced it was approving new rules increasing the available spectrum for air-to-ground broadband services on May 9 and the in-flight WiFi experience is expected to be improved.
There are currently two methods to supply in-flight WiFi services.
In one, special facilities are built on the ground along the flight routes, connecting air-ground broadband.
In the other, satellite communications are used for the in-flight WiFi access. The satellite-based WiFi system is the only way for flights that cross oceans.
Some Chinese carriers have already provided surfing on local area networks inside the cabins.
Air China was the first Chinese airline to test local area networks during flights. It was operating four aircraft providing local area network services by September 2012.
Hainan Airlines also runs one aircraft with a local area network. "The carrier will eventually equip the whole fleet," the company told China Daily.
Airlines cannot ignore the potential of in-flight WiFi because of its huge commercial value, analysts said.
"The airlines and third-party service providers can create various business models based on in-flight WiFi," Analysys International, a Chinese Internet research firm, said in a report.
Customers using in-flight WiFi would likely be high-end with higher spending power, the research company said.
However, there are still some factors constraining in-flight WiFi.
Commerce is a problem for the airlines because they need to invest a lot in the equipment, but currently there is no clear business model for the service.
The airlines, which provide local area network services, do not charge for it yet, but it cost about 1.9 million yuan ($309,510) to equip the aircraft with the service.
It will cost more if the airlines use satellites on their long-haul flights.
Chinese carriers have to carefully consider the price of the in-flight WiFi service. Foreign airlines price the service from about $2 to $20 according to duration.
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