The first production in-flight mobile system is now airborne: After years of setting dates and pushing them back, OnAir has its first bird aloft. The satellite-based mobile phone and data service is installed in a test mode on an Airbus 318 (equipped for the purpose at the factory) owned by Air France. The plane was received in spring, but the necessary permissions took longer to secure.
The service is limited to text messaging and mobile email for the first half of the six-month trial. In three months, voice service will be enabled, but according to interviews I've conducted over the last couple of years, the voice part could be summarily disabled during flights or for the remainder of the trial depending on reception.
Calls may be made only above 10,000 feet (3,000m). OnAir said they have arrangements with several cell carriers--the company's service is like its own cell carrier in the air--including Orange, Bouyges Telecom, and SFR. The cost is "comparable" to international calling, and is estimated to be about US$2.50 per minute in previous reports and interviews.
I still recall a trip via high-speed rail I took in France in 2000 where, when a Francophone was talking (quietly) on his cell phone in the main first-class compartment, someone walked up to him and said, in French, why are you talking here? Why are you disturbing everyone? Do you think you're an American? The man protested feebly, and then got up to make his calls from the enclosed foyer of the car.
I have my doubts about whether in-flight calling could be truly acceptable outside of certain societies in which that kind of private space in public circumstances simply isn't recognized.