In an unprecedented move, TRAI (The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has given a positive nod to in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity and call making. It has released its recommendations for In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) on January 18, 2018. The recommendation has come after the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had sought for the TRAI’s proposal last year.

The decision paves the way for airlines to offer these services once they meet certain security norms. While internet can be provided from the moment a plane taxies and personal electronic devices (PEDs) put on “flight mode”, mobile phone services will be allowed when aircraft are flying above an altitude of 3,000 metres. The operation of MCA (mobile communication on aircraft) services has a minimum height restriction of 3,000 metres in Indian airspace to ensure its “compatibility with terrestrial mobile networks”.

An official from TRAI mentioned,

“We have allowed both mobile communication on aircraft (MCA) and onboard internet as IFC in Indian airspace. Now it is up to airlines which one of these to offer,”

Most airlines globally offer Wi-Fi on board as allowing mobile calls is seen as “too much of a nuisance” for fellow travellers. The final nod comes almost three years after the aviation ministry first mooted the idea.

However, Domestic airlines are still evaluating the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) recommendations to allow on board Wi-Fi, but high cost and price sensitivity may deter them from rolling out the service. Foreign airlines which already provide IFC but had to switch the same off in Indian airspace also did not say if they will now provide it on flights to, from and over India.

Stephen Tame, chief advisor (IT) at IndiGo, while speaking about this latest development mentioned,

“In-flight connectivity is a difficult business case to make for domestic airline operations. The aircraft are smaller, there are less passengers and flying time is not that long,”

Another senior executive of a low-cost carrier ruled out the prospect of providing free in-flight wifi.

“Please don’t compare it to other developed markets, this is a very price sensitive market where even full service carriers are now cutting down on amenities and luxury,”

However, AirAsiaIndia mentioned that it’s always ready to offer services that will enhance ultimate in-flight customer experience through digital offerings. he airline did not make any specific comment on pricing or the implications of offering voice calls on the flight. Full-service carriers said they would contemplate providing wifi, based on passenger feedback. Pankaj Srivastava,  commercial director at Air India, mentioned,

“The Trai recommendations have just come, we will review it and take a decision. Our widebody aircraft like Boeing 777 and 787 can be retrofitted with equipment. On-board connectivity is not only a source of ancillary revenue for airlines but increases its value in the mind of flyers in long-haul routes,”

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Shivani Pandita

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