x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

In-flight connectivity a priority to most passengers, survey shows

The ability to use Wi-Fi for business purposes was so important that 45 per cent of respondents said they would likely pay to do work in the air.

More than three quarters of Middle East passengers view in-flight connectivity as important or vital, but just 27 per cent of UAE travellers have accessed Wi-Fi in the air, a survey suggests.

Thirty-five per cent of the respondents in a Honeywell Aerospace study said the ability to access Wi-Fi was so important that they considered giving up a preferred window or aisle seat.

And 22 per cent of respondents said they would forfeit an in-flight beverage service.

Indeed, the ability to use Wi-Fi for business purposes was so important that 45 per cent of respondents said they would likely pay to do work in the air. There is, however, a resistance to paying for internet access for personal tasks, according to Honeywell.

Aileen McDowall, Honeywell’s vice president for the air transport aftermarket business for Europe, Middle East, Africa and India, said the survey showed that passengers wanted reliable, fast and affordable internet access in the air.

“I think it shows that there is a growing demand for passenger connectivity … that is like your experience on the ground.”

Oman Air became the first airline to offer full mobile phone and Wi-Fi connectivity in 2010, but many other airlines have since adopted some forms of that.

However, airlines that have yet to install the technology now face a dilemma.

L-Band satellite technology currently allows passengers to access some services, but it is limited.

Ms McDowall said passengers could use their BlackBerry smartphones to send emails, but high-speed broadband capability for live television or streaming videos remained patchy.

The next generation of satellite connectivity, called Ka-Band, provides high-speed connections. But it will not be available until 2015 when the satellites are switched on, leaving operators with the choice to press ahead with plans to introduce a slower service or wait until the technology advances.

“[Ka-Band] enables much higher bandwith, which enables live TV stream into the aircraft. For all intents and purposes, your experience is very similar to what you would get on the ground,” said Ms McDowall.

“It becomes much easier to explain to a passenger what you can and can’t do because it’s like the ground.”

gduncan@thenational.ae