Flybe to Offer In-Flight Messaging

UK REGIONAL carrier Flybe has confirmed that it will soon be able to offer in-flight communication to passengers travelling on its fleet of Embraer E-Jets.  The facility is a fringe benefit of a satellite communication (satcom) installation used to provide live weather data to aircraft.
The carrier has partnered with US weather data specialist, AirDat, which is helping to fund the programme, with installation on up to 20 aircraft expected by April 2012.
“It is cheaper to acquire the hardware and install it on an airliner than to use weather balloons,” Flybe UK CEO Andrew Strong said.  The equipment will allow AirDat to benefit from real-time weather data provided by Flybe flights, while the carrier can use the remaining satcom bandwidth for otherwise prohibitively expensive operational communication, and for onboard mobile phone usage.
Installation of satcom will focus initially on the E175 and E195 fleets, taking advantage of the aircraft’s longer flight sectors.  It is not immediately clear whether mobile communication, which will be limited to SMS and email on account of the limited bandwidth available, will be used by the carrier as a means of generating revenue.
In a separate initiative, Cambridge University is working with Flybe to develop a particulate matter sensor to provide real-time volcanic ash warnings to flight crews.
Mr Strong added: “Couple satcom with the detector and you can start providing some very interesting data.”  Development is currently at the test phase, but Mr Strong confirmed that a proof-of-concept model could be ready within nine months.