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Pilot flight for Internet on Air China

By Zhao Lei | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-04 02:17

Passengers on Chinese airlines will be able to access the Internet in the near future, industry insiders forecast, after the first Chinese flight offering Web service landed in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Wednesday afternoon.

"By the end of next year, most of our wide-body passenger jets will have been refitted and equipped with access to the Internet, and a lot of our passengers will be able to enjoy this service after the refit," Fan Cheng, a senior Air China executive, said on board an Air China flight from Beijing to Chengdu.

Journalists and VIPs invited by the company experienced the service, which was based on satellite telecommunications technology and offers a narrowband of up to 864Kbps, allowing the sending of e-mail and browsing the latest news on an online platform.

Li Jiaxiang, director of Civil Aviation Administration of China, sent an "extra-high altitude" micro blog post on board the aircraft.

"Hello everyone. I am Li Jiaxiang, director of CAAC. I am using the micro blog on board an Air China jetliner, and the inflight Internet service is pretty good," Li wrote on Air China's Sina Weibo account, which showed the post was sent from an altitude of 11,460 meters.

Li also bought two iPhone cases on the online platform using his Air China membership points.

Globally, a host of big airlines including Lufthansa, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic have opened in-flight Internet services.

Once the service becomes available to ordinary passengers, they will be able to browse a selected set of news portals on board the company's aircraft with their laptops or tablet computers, said Zhang Yun, manager of Air China's in-flight Internet project.

However, mobile phones will not be included in the system because they have too many signal emissions that can substantially affect the electronic systems on an aircraft, Zhang said, noting that the company has been exploring techniques that will enable mobile phones to operate on board.

Air China began to develop its in-flight Internet system in early 2011, according to Zhang. He said the system passed CAAC safety and airborne compatibility tests and the safety of the aircraft will not be compromised if the in-flight Internet system is hacked, although the possibility of that is "very slim". The service will begin only after the jetliner is at an altitude of more than 3,000 meters, so it will not be available during takeoff and landing, Zhang said.

The current narrowband access can allow up to 80 passengers to use the Internet simultaneously, he added.

Passengers said they are looking forward to the service.

"I noticed some people sitting in the front seats were updating their micro blogs and I hope I can use this service as soon as possible," said Guo Chao, a Beijing white-collar worker on board the flight.

"But I want to know whether I can use it for free or have to pay."

Zhang said, "As far as I know, we don't have plans to charge passengers for this service, but what comes next depends on its development."

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