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OnAir In-Flight Service To Include IP Voice Calls

The clearest differences between in-flight mobile communications in the United States and Europe is that Europeans prefer services that enable passengers to talk while Americans want services that forbid talking.

Europeans, through British Airways, will bring OnAir service to the shores of the United States in twice-daily flights between London City Airport and New York's JFK Airport. The European OnAir service will enable passengers to stay connected during the flights using their mobile phones to access the Internet to send and receive text messages and e-mails, and, yes, to send and receive voice messages, too.

From its earliest beginnings, OnAir has been committed to supplying cell phone voice service to its customers, initially in Europe and later globally. U.S. airlines and in-flight messaging providers and passengers have viewed in-flight voice services as something akin to the bubonic plague, in which talking is strictly forbidden.

When British Airways' all-business-class flights to the United States begin later this year, the voice feature of OnAir will likely be turned off as the planes near U.S. shores in keeping with U.S. preferences. Transoceanic flights have long had some voice connections for passengers, including flights offered earlier in the decade by Boeing through its Connexion service. Boeing dropped Connexion, however, after losing hundreds of millions of dollars on the venture.

OnAir, which was incorporated in 2005, is owned by communications services firm SITA, which provides IT solutions to air transport suppliers and European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. OnAir services are available for commercial airlines including Airbus and Boeing planes and private and corporate jets worldwide, but not in the United States.

OnAir utilizes Inmarsat SwiftBroadband satellite services and the GSM/GPRS network to deliver its services to passengers.

In a statement, OnAir CEO Benoit Debains said of the forthcoming London-to-New York service: "We are delighted to be working with British Airways, one of the world's flagship carriers, to provide the highest available standard of in-flight passenger connectivity and to introduce the service on this premium route."