Passengers use mobile phones in airplane mode on a China Eastern Airlines passenger plane on Jan 18. [Photo/China News Service]
More entertainment options to open up new revenue streams
The in-flight Wi-Fi market in China is expected to enter a golden growth period in the near future, providing services to 500 million travelers every year once passengers are allowed to use portable electronic devices while flying in the country.
In late January, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) loosened the restrictions on devices while flying. Now, passengers can use mobile phones, tablets and laptops during the whole flight, so long as they have airplane mode switched on.
But most domestic flights are not yet equipped with Wi-Fi services and that is not going to change significantly anytime soon, because of technologies and costs. Without Wi-Fi in the air, mobile phones can be only used for such things as listening to music, taking photos or playing some games.
It costs airlines about 7 million yuan ($1.1 million) to modify a plane to enable it to provide in-air Wi-Fi services, the National Business Daily reported.
Because of the limitations of costs, technologies and the number of satellites, the airlines can't provide a large number of Wi-Fi-enabled flights in the short term, and it is estimated that it needs about three years for airlines to make Wi-Fi standard aboard flights, industry experts said.
China Eastern currently has more than 70 aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi, covering its entire international long-haul fleet and more than 160 key domestic routes, with most of them charging passengers fees to use the service.
Hainan Airlines, China's largest private airline, has 17 B787-9 aircraft equipped with Wi-Fi services, accounting for 30 percent of its wide-body fleet.
"The charge for Wi-Fi services, and the providing of paid media content and advertisements are all possible important channels for Hainan Airlines to increase its sales revenues," said Sun Jianfeng, president of the carrier.
"Besides, we won't cut the costs invested in in-flight entertainment systems for now, and we are cooperating with other partners to develop in-flight entertainment systems that will adapt to portable electronic devices," he said.
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