Oman Air adds first combined in-flight WiFi and mobile phone services


Passengers on Oman Air will have access to Internet connectivity and be able to use their mobile devices from mid-February when the airline launches these services – a first for the airline industry, it claims – on a newly-delivered Airbus A330.

The Middle Eastern airline, the national carrier of the Sultanate of Oman, was unable to tell eTN how much the wireless Internet connection charges would be, as they are still “under discussion,” but spokesperson Matt Grainger said, “It’s possible they will be complimentary for first-class passengers.” However, all classes will have access to the facility allowing them to SMS, email, Facebook, and Twitter as they please.

WiFi and mobile services have been gradually creeping onboard a number of airlines, but not together. Delta launched its WiFi service a year ago on its domestic services. Others such as Emirates and Ryanair have started with mobile phone services on shorter routes – in the case of the latter, as a way of increasing ancillary revenue, something the carrier is keen to exploit at prices reported to be up to £3 per minute.

Oman Air’s first A330 combined mobile and WiFi offering will most likely service its London Heathrow to Muscat route. Another six that have been ordered are expected to be delivered on a rolling schedule to 2011.

Interestingly, Oman Air has never offered seat-back phone systems, so the move is a big technology leap for the airline. CEO, Peter Hill, said: “For many travelers, the ability to communicate via phone, SMS, email, or Internet is now a vital part of everyday life. People are increasingly expecting connectivity anywhere and anytime.” But the airline stressed that the services would be controlled by the crew so that passengers are not disturbed at certain times such as overnight when many people are trying to sleep.

The airline’s A330 fleet has been fitted with the Airbus ALNA V2 system, using Honeywell’s SwiftBroadband (SBB) solution. This supports both mobile phone and Internet in-flight communication, ensuring that whatever devices passengers choose, they can get access.

In-flight connectivity is another step in Oman Air’s recent move towards a more luxury and service-oriented positioning as it taps the prestige tourism market. The new A330 also offers a first-class cabin, another new addition for the Heathrow route, offering six mini-suites with flat beds and 23-inch monitors, plus a separate lounge area, while crew are now dressed in Balenciaga-designed uniforms.

In December, the airline launched a US$10 million international advertising campaign in key European and Asian markets with the UK, France, and Germany specified as particular targets. The campaign comes on the back of the launch of new routes to Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Male in the Maldives, and Colombo in Sri Lanka.