OnAir's in-flight cellular GSM satellite-backed system received approval from the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA): However, EASA approves airworthiness--the idea that a certified item won't cause interference with the avionics or mechanical systems of a plane. That's just one of many remaining hurdles before OnAir's service is activated an Air France A318 as early as September.
In an interview a few weeks ago with OnAir chief commercial officer Graham Lake, he explained that in addition to certification of the GSM picocell system, the satellite connection to Inmarsat also required certification. Then each spectrum regulator over which planes equipped with such gear might fly must also provide approval--that's 34 countries in Europe alone. The firm had 12 of 34 approvals needed as of last month; they expect to be approved in almost all European nations by the end of 2007.
OnAir has been working for years to provide in-flight mobile data and mobile calling using Inmarsat's fourth-generation satellite system. Inmarsat's satellite launches were severely delayed, the first of them by a year, and the delivery, rollout, and certification of airliner equipment has lagged as well. OnAir uses an onboard picocell system to allow GSM-based phones and handhelds to use GSM and GPRS for voice and data. Each airline will choose what combination of service they need. Wireless carriers will set the ultimate price for voice calls, expected to be about US$2.50 per minute.
The Air France launch will start with just SMS (text messaging) and GPRS-based data. SMS messages will cost about 50 cents (U.S.) each, while GPRS pricing is still being sorted out. It's possible due to routes and timing that RyanAir would have the first picocell-operating plane in the air. Air France is using a single Airbus plane equipped for its trial; RyanAir is having its entire fleet of Boeing's retrofitted.
Update: The International Herald Tribune gets two elements of the story wrong. First, they lead with the notion that EASA's approval opens the door to mobile phone on planes. Per my notes above, it does not. There's still spectrum regulation to be nailed down, and certification for the satellite kit, which OnAir said had not yet happened when I spoke to them a few weeks ago.
Second, while Wi-Fi may be a future option for OnAir, it's not in the near future. It would be ruinously expensive to offer Wi-Fi-based Internet access over Inmarsat's system with the current pricing, and OnAir's Lake told me the firm had not sought Wi-Fi certification in their current system design.