The pathetic state of Australian in-flight internet


blog Want to use the internet on your flight on an Australian airline? That’s nice — but it’s also not yet possible, appears to be the conclusion to an extensive article on the subject published over at brand spanking new online publication Australian Business Traveller. This paragraph seems to be emblematic of the airlines’ attitude towards the subject:

A Qantas spokesperson confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that it does plan to offer internet in its A380s, though it had nothing to say at the moment about when it would be activated, or at what price. She also said Qantas had no plans to announce for internet connectivity in its other planes such as its domestic fleet.

The situation in the US, however, appears a little different:

Flying domestically in the US is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to internet access in the plane. A company called Aircell has installed EV-DO Rev. A base stations pointing at the sky on mobile towers right across continental USA. The inflight internet service is called GoGo, and aircraft from numerous airlines connect to the Aircell base stations and provide inflight internet access via WiFi at affordable rates.

Shock, horror. Once again — through no obvious reason — Australia gets left behind in the technology curve. We have planes with the facility to offer in-flight internet access and a passenger base that would happily pay for it, but airlines that can’t seem to get across the finish line.

When does Generation Y reach the management layer again?

Image credit: Qantas


  1. So I’m a professional Internet geek AND an amateur pilot. Lemme weigh in here for a bit…

    We can’t blame Qantas for this. We can’t even blame their management.

    CASA could get an earful, but they’re only interpreting legislation. The relevant bit is Civil Aviation Safety Regulation (CASR) 91.055, which requires the operator and pilot in command of an aircraft to prohibit or limit the operation of a Personal Electronic Device (PED) on board an aircraft if there is reason to believe the PED may adversely affect the safety of the aircraft.

    Noncompliance is a strict liability offence: You and/or the pilot and/or the aircraft operating organization can be liable for penalties even if you didn’t know your mobile phone was still switched on.

    CASA advisory circular 91-050 has more information:

    Qantas secured an exemption a few years ago to run trials of SMS on GSM handsets on one domestic and two international 767’s. I’m not aware of any other occasions when CASA has authorized deviation from the regs, but I’m happy to become informed if anyone knows of any.

    The upshot of all this is that an aircraft flying in Australian airspace cannot permit the use of RF transmitters in flight, even if the aircraft is designed to accommodate it, and even if the technical capability for (for example) internet access has been provided.

    So, of course, Qantas isn’t likely to spend the money to retrofit internet access equipment into their old airliners, are they? The only reason they have it on the A380’s is because it comes by default.

    This is a very silly situation caused by the regulator. It’s not because RF devices are known to cause problems on board planes, it’s because it hasn’t been proved that they can’t. Personally if I’d spent $40m on an airliner and someone told me it’d crash if their phone rang, I’d want my money back. But CASA is clearly of a different mind.

    Solving this will require Government action: The CASRs need to be changed to allow the use of certain classes of PED in flight on aircraft which are designed and certified to accommodate it.

    Given that the CASRs have been in the process of being “modernized” for several years now, with no end in sight, I wouldn’t expect that to happen quickly.

    – mark

    • Mark, I think the real question here, as we can all acknowledge, is when Simon Hackett will get in-flight internet in his glider. Until that point, I think Internode is a disappointment as an ISP.

    • That’s interesting re the Regs.
      Singapore Airlines was offering inflight internet access (via Wifi) back in 2006 on their SYD-SIN-LHR route. Though, because I had only my Pocket PC I was never able to make it work (required javascript or activex or something that my PPC couldn’t do).

      I can’t be 100% certain now, but I was sure that I had tested it before we got out of Australian Airspace.

  2. Simon Hackett can use wireless devices in an aircraft without anyone being able to dob him in, so I have no idea whether or not that’s a moot point :-)

    – mark

    • (of course, the hilarious thing here is that because Australia’s regulations have lagged the rest of the world, some of the mid-range pilots’ headsets manufactured overseas and widely used in Australia have built-in bluetooth so that the pilot can use them in-flight with his or her mobile phone)

      • Heh, that is truly ridiculous re: Bluetooth.

        Very good lengthy comment above by the way — I think this is the kind of detail that you can’t really get unless you are a pilot of some kind. It’s hard for the rest of us to work out what’s really going on. I appreciate you going into so much detail!

  3. I was on a work trip to the US recently and instead of the JFK -> LAX flight on the way home being an entirely wasted 6 hours, I was able to work online with my MacBook Pro for the entire flight. It was only something like $10-$15, and as more providers offer in-flight Wi-Fi, and more people use it, prices will invariably go down.

    The crazy thing is Sydney Melbourne is apparently the busiest air route in the world. I’d say a large percentage of this is business travel as well. The lack of Wi-Fi is ludicrous. Think of the added productivity of an hour each way!

  4. Flew from Chicago to San Fran when in-flight wifi (probably GoGo) was free as it was new. Almost a year to the day. Was uncanny – work mates coming to replace me were in the air flying the opposite direction. We were swapping juvenile “I’ve got free internet 35000ft up” facebook photo’s.

    I’m sure the Americans around us were rolling their eyes at the technologically starved Aussies…

    Didn’t even have a laptop on me and yet very pleasant experience doing gmail chat via iPhone. You only need to do it once to know you’d pay for it.

  5. Renai, I don’t think the issue is actually the prohibition of RF usage in planes. Qantas A380’s safety cards actually say you can use WiFi on board. It’s actually regulation of internet connectivity on planes — the link between the plane and the satellite (as far as I know). It’s a bit hard to get a straight answer from anyone on this, but they keep blaming ACMA.

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