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Ryanair takes to in flight calling

European budget airline Ryanair announced plans Wednesday to outfit its entire fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft with technology that will allow passengers to use their mobile phones onboard.

The airline has partnered with onboard passenger communications firm OnAir and Boeing, which is manufacturing the mini-basestations to be installed on the planes.

A spokesman for OnAir explained that the company would act as a “mobile operator in the sky”, providing GPRS network services “in line with current international roaming rates” via its infrastructure unit Monaco Telecom. The air to land connection would be provided via a partnership with satellite operator Inmarsat and would allow customers to uses data services such as SMS and mobile email as well as voice.

Ryanair will also receive a commission from OnAir on call revenues generated by passengers on board its aircraft. Revenues which are expected to be significant.

OnAir acknowledged that there are still some regulatory hurdles to overcome, primarily concerning OnAir’s use of the radio spectrum, which is already owned by other operators, but the company anticipates that the system will be up and running by mid-2007. OnAir said the regulatory discussions are well underway and on schedule.

In terms of safety, Boeing has been brought in to manufacturer the technology, so as to avoid any interference with avionics and it is expected that calls will not be allowed below 10,000 feet or during sensitive flight modes.

OnAir said it intends to fit 50 Ryanair aircraft during the second half of 2007, with the remainder of the fleet receiving installations from early 2008 onwards. Mobile OnAir will be offered on all Ryanair flights across Ryanair’s network of more than 360 routes serving 23 countries across Europe.

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