The government has recently permitted airlines operating in India to provide in-flight WiFi services to passengers. 

More about the news:

  • Earlier in 2018, the Telecom Commission had allowed in-flight connectivity of the Internet and mobile communications on aircraft.
  • In the new in-flight WiFi service, the pilot may permit the access of Internet services by passengers on board, through Wi-Fi on board, when a laptop, smartphone, tablet, smartwatch, e-reader or a point of sale device is used in flight mode or airplane mode.
  • It uses signals from ground stations and also uses satellite connectivity. 
  • This way, there will be no break in Internet services to passengers, and cross-interference between terrestrial and satellite networks will be avoided.

Working Mechanism

In-flight WiFi connectivity systems use two kinds of technologies. 

  • Picking up signals from the nearest tower on the ground: Once flight mode is activated in the air time, the plane’s antenna will link to terrestrial Internet services provided by telecom service providers. 
    • Unless the aircraft flying over a large space with no towers (such as a water body), the connection will remain seamless up to a certain altitude.
  • Use of satellite connectivity: When the aircraft has reached a height of 3,000 m (normally 4-5 minutes after take-off), the antenna will switch to satellite-based services. Satellites can be used to connect to ground stations in the same way that satellite TV signals are transmitted. 
    • Data transmission is done to a personal electronic device through an onboard router, which connects to the plane’s antenna. 
    • Plane’s antenna transmits the signals, through satellites, to a ground station, which redirects the traffic to a billing server that calculates the data consumption. 
    • It is then relayed to the intercepting servers, and to the World Wide Web.


Financial cost associated

  • Initial Costs:
    • The initial cost of installing antennae on aircraft is to be borne by the airlines.
    • Some airlines have said it would be easier to have the equipment installed on their new aircraft rather than taking planes out of service for retrofitting. 
  • Additional Costs:
    • Apart from the expenses on the equipment needed, airlines will have to bear additional fuel costs, given the extra weight and drag aircraft will face due to the antenna.

Worldwide experiences

  • Globally, some airlines offering onboard WiFi offer a small volume of the free Internet before asking the customer to buy a pack. 
  • Price plans may be volume-based or volume- and time-based. 
  • Some others provide limited or unlimited Internet in Business and First class. 

Challenges ahead:

  • Probable increment in the ticket prices: The additional cost could find a way into ticket prices. 
  • Speed of the internet connection: In general, WiFi on a plane is slower than on the ground even though this is changing with newer technologies. 
  • The reluctance of the airlines: Technology and laws allow calls to be made from aircraft, but many airlines do not want noisy cabins.


JV’s Prelims Snippets

About Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)

  • It is an attached office of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
  • Functions:
    • The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is the regulatory body in the field of Civil Aviation primarily dealing with safety issues. 
    • It is responsible for the regulation of air transport services to/from/within India and for enforcement of civil air regulations, air safety, and airworthiness standards. 
    • It also coordinates all regulatory functions with the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
  • The headquarters are located in New Delhi with regional offices in various parts of India.

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