The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has approved WirelessG & Row 44’s application to install its in-flight WiFi-enabling equipment on board South African commercial aircraft.

This will enable WirelessG to operate its G-Connect broadband services aboard commercial aircraft in South African skies, and means that passengers will be able to access the Internet while they travel.

“Although we still await quality assurance of the final installation, the CAA is proud to announce its consent for the use of this technology in South Africa especially as it is a South African company that will exclusively offer the service.” says Subash Devkaran, senior manager: aircraft certification at CAA.

“This application is the first of its kind in Africa and will enhance the value proposition offered in the airline industry. It is not only the first time, but internationally very unique that a telecommunications company gets involved in the airline industry to such an extent where broadband will be supplied as part of a converged telecommunications service,” says Devkaran.

Devkaran states that, although this new innovation will contribute greatly to South African industrial competitiveness in the global arena, the CAA’s first and foremost concern still remains passenger safety. The in-flight WiFi technology has been rigorously tested by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The CAA’s approval of WirelessG’s in-flight WiFi services came through in a matter of weeks, following the safety endorsement and issuing of a supplemental type certificate (STC) release from Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the US and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to equip 737-800 series commercial aircraft and operate WiFi services.

“Given the fact that it was an extensive process to get the technology approved by various authorities, this consent by the CAA can be seen as the most critical. It finally provides certainty and credibility to all stakeholders involved,” says Carel van der Merwe, CEO of WirelessG. “The WirelessG in-flight initiative became a critical success factor in our long term strategy that was already initiated in 2008. The launch of in-flight Wi-Fi will solidify our position as a unique broadband provider in the South African market.”

According to Devkaran, the in-flight STC allows for the use of any Wi-Fi enabled mobile device. GSM still has to be switched off when using dual model devices, but airlines equipped with this technology, may now apply for special exemption from the CAA to accommodate the use of Wi-Fi only with such phones.

Van der Merwe says that 67% of the target market indicated that they will use the in-flight service.