Having access to WhatsApp, NetfFlix and Facebook looks more likely for Indian flyers, with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) giving a green light to inflight connectivity.
However, airlines are divided over the economical cost of offering internet communication on short-haul domestic routes.
“As long as the provision of service is technically feasible and there are no security concerns, there should be no regulatory barrier in provding both mobile and internet communication on aircraft. The authority recommends both these be permitted in Indian airspace,” Trai has said.
In September 2017, it had issued a consultation paper on flight connectivity. The regulator examined whether on-board internet should be allowed to flyers from the moment they board to when they alight or when the aircraft has reached an altitude of three km. And, whether Indian flyers should have access to both internet and mobile communication services.
Aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey had last August promised that internet connectivity in Indian skies would be allowed “in days” but security considerations have checked this till now.
Security agencies wanted the server providing inflight connectivity in India to be an Indian one, so that they could intercept the feed if required. Even foreign carriers that offer the internet on their planes have to switch this off while overflying Indian airspace, if their service provider does not have an Indian server.
However, the availability of on-board internet will depend on airlines and whether it makes business sense for them. When the aviation ministry had initially proposed the idea, carriers Vistara and Jet Airways had shown interest; IndiGo and SpiceJet had expressed doubt on whether it would make economic sense. “In a budget airline environment, how this extra cost will affect the ticket price is an aspect that needs to be looked into,” said a senior executive of a low-cost airline.
However, executives of full-service airlines said the expenditure was a “necessary business cost.” Full-service carriers Vistara and Jet made the first move for providing wireless streaming of entertainment content in aircraft. Last year, Jet announced it would offer wireless streaming of movies and television shows on personal devices such as phones or tablets from the second quarter of this year.
While Vistara discontinued the service, it is available on all Jet Airways Boeing 737s. Vistara chief executive Leslie Thng had, in a recent interaction, said the airline would be improving on passenger amenities before it forayed into international routes. “Inflight Wi-Fi is increasingly becoming an expected service for flyers, especially in those routes which have corporate traffic. Implementing in short-haul routes is a challenge but it could be a necessary business cost,” said an executive of a full-service carrier.business-standard