Two weeks from now it will be permissible to use WiFi enabled devices on board aircraft in India, assuming the pilot agrees. As the country inches ever closer to allowing for inflight connectivity services on board the rules are being adjusted to account for such. Most recently a filing in the Gazette of India seeks to amend the rules affecting the use of portable electronic devices in transmitting mode on board.
With the new policy in place the rule will look like this (bold provision is new):
29B. Prohibition on the use of portable electronic devices – No person shall operate, nor shall the operator or the pilot-in-command of an aircraft allow the operation of any portable electronic device on board an aircraft in flight:
Provided that the Pilot-in-Command may permit the use of cellular telephone by the passengers of a flight after the aircraft has landed and cleared active runway, except when the landing takes place in low visibility conditions as may be determined by the Director-General from time to time;
Provided further that the Pilot-in-Command may permit the use of mobile communication and internet services through Wi-Fi on board an aircraft certified by the Director-General for such services and subject to the procedures specified by the Director-General in that behalf;
Provided further that the provisions of this rule shall not apply to portable voice recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemaker, electric shavers or other portable electronic devices which, in the opinion of the operator, do not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be operated and for which such operator has obtained approval of the Director-General.
The adoption of this rule does not immediately make inflight connectivity viable in India. While the regulations are slowly easing two other parties must also act. The service suppliers must get their systems into place to make it offerable to the airlines and the airlines must get the hardware installed and activated on board.
Among service providers Global Eagle is in the lead. The company and its local partner Hughes India acquired the license months ago. It also has ground station infrastructure in place and the satellite capacity secured. Unfortunately, however, it does not have a customer for that service. Global Eagle contracted with Jet Airways to expand its existing inflight entertainment solution to cover the connectivity service as well. And then Jet ceased operations.
Inmarsat is also making progress to bring its ground station online and meet the other regulatory requirements to offer its services. The company has not updated the end of year target it announced in April 2019. Presumably that is still a viable date for the company.
Read More: Indian airlines could be online by October
For the airlines SpiceJet remains the likely first adopter of such, having previously expressed interest. Still, it would appear Q2 2020 is the earliest the system is likely to be active in commercial service. And that assumes no delays along the way, something rare in the rollout of inflight connectivity services. Among other challenges, the up front capital costs to install and activate the hardware on board are significant. Fortunately for the airlines still in business in India profits are up a bit with Jet Airways now out of the market, though it is unclear just how stable that position is. After all, none of the remaining airlines are slowing their growth plans as they scramble to secure market share.
Ultimately the Indian market presents huge questions around inflight connectivity. It will not behave the same as the North American or European IFC segments because the airlines and the passengers are different. That makes for a far less certain business model as the parties seek to develop new schemes that can keep consumers coming back for more and still cover the costs.
And, while the data consumption patterns are different, they still lean heavily on a growth in video content. Demand is not slowing by any means. That makes delivering a compelling, affordable and profitable solution incredibly difficult, just like in the rest of the world.