Passengers can soon enjoy in-flight Wi-Fi service on Air China's domestic routes, but only intranet for now.
State-run Air China is testing its first Wi-Fi-equipped aircraft today at Beijing Capital Airport. Various Chinese media outlets indicate this is a purely experimental flight, not a commercial one.
The Beijing-based carrier is the country’s first airline to take Wi-Fi to the skies, though a number of other Chinese airlines -- such as Shenzhen Air, China Eastern and China Southern -- have announced similar plans in the past.
Wi-Fi intranet for now
According to the recent posts on Air China’s official Weibo page, the company has finished installing Wi-Fi devices on a Boeing 737-800, which is flying today. But the carrier is only able to provide Wi-Fi intranet at this stage.
This means passengers won’t be able to use Wi-Fi to communicate with the ground, whether emailing, web surfing or microblogging. Instead, they can connect to Air China’s local network for watching movies, listening to music or reading information.
An anonymous aviation insider told Oriental Morning Post that the water-test of Wi-Fi intranet is Air China’s first step in connecting aircraft with the ground. And the company has signed an agreement with China Telecom in order to push forward in-flight calls and web surfing.
On domestic flights, free of charge
Air China plans to provide free in-flight Wi-Fi service on domestic routes once the test succeeds and after the company receives the green light from the government.
The same insider explained that the Chinese aviation authorities have yet to recognize the legitimacy of in-flight Wi-Fi internet or intranet, and the central government has yet to set up any rules on the new aviation trend.
This means both airlines and the aviation bureau have nothing to resort to while dealing with key issues, such as the installation of Wi-Fi devices and pricing model.
While in-flight Wi-Fi is new to the Middle Kingdom, the service has long been a hot catch for international airlines.
United Continental Holdings recently announced it would provide the service to passengers of more than 300 United Airlines and Continental Airlines' flights, starting around the middle of 2012.
Singapore Airlines is also aiming to equip 43 aircraft with Wi-Fi by 2013.
According to marketing research company In-Stat, worldwide in-flight Wi-Fi revenues will surpass the US$1.5 billion mark in 2015.