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Industry Telecommunication, Technology, Aviation
Fate Airbus sold it 33% in OnAir to SITA making it a subsidiary of SITA.
Predecessor OnAir
Headquarters Geneva, Switzerland
Area served
Key people
David Lavorel (CEO)
Sean Lund (Chief Commercial Officer [1]

SITAOnAir is a company that enables airline passengers to use their mobile phones and laptops for calls, text messaging, emails and Internet browsing. By May 2014, SITAOnAir’s services were available in over 60 countries and used by 22 airlines flying over five continents.

The company is a fully owned subsidiary of SITA, originally incorporated as OnAir as a joint venture with Airbus in February 2005. In February 2013 Airbus sold its 33% final stake to SITA.[2] The company is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and has operations in Seattle and sales offices in London, Singapore and Dubai.


SITAOnAir offers many services which aircraft operators can use together or separately:

  • Flight Operations or Flight planning is the process of producing a flight plan to describe a proposed aircraft flight.
  • Internet OnAir is a Wi-Fi network which offers Internet access at broadband speed to passengers.[3]
  • Mobile OnAir is a cellphone service which offers mobile telephony, SMS and narrowband Internet access (56 kbit/s) and so allows passengers to make and receive calls on their mobile phones, send and receive text messages and emails and use the Internet. Airlines can restrict usage of these services at discretion enabling them to ban voice calls and allow only SMS and Internet access instead. Lufthansa is one airline following this restrictive approach due to passengers' alleged desire for quiet during flights.[4]
  • Link OnAir' is a managed network service that allows airlines to use the IP-based satellite connection used by the aforementioned services for other applications, such as supplying in-flight entertainment systems with news content or Internet access and providing mission-critical information and communication services to air crews.[3]
  • OnAir Play' combines inflight connectivity with films, TV, live news, music, games, magazines and newspapers. Passengers have access to a full range of content including live news and sport, updated throughout the flight and can buy destination-based goods and services to ease their arrival.[5]

All three services share the same satellite connection to the ground. SITAOnAir (then OnAir) was the first company to provide integrated GSM and inflight wifi services, with Oman Air as the launch airline in March 2010.[6] SITAOnAir’s technology has been certified for use on many types of aircraft – both private and commercial jets including Boeing and Airbus – for short and long haul. In most cases, it is available for linefit or retrofit.[7]


typical location of satellite antenna radome

SITAOnAir's onboard system is based on a Wi-Fi access point and/or a GSM picocell connected to the ground through a satellite link. All onboard equipment, except for the satellite antenna, fits into a hand-luggage compartment.[8]

Satellite Link[edit]

SITAOnAir offers the satellite connectivity required for its onboard services using Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband service operating in the L band and prospectively Inmarsat's Ka band-based Global Xpress system which is expected to be launched in 2015. However customers are free to use third-party services for the backhaul to the ground. 90% of the onboard equipment can be used with any radio link, for example other satellite networks or a direct air-to-ground link.[9]

Due to the limited bandwidth of only 864 kbit/s offered by SITAOnAir today and its inability to feed in live television in February 2013 Emirates, one of SITAOnAir's largest customers, has selected a Ku band-based service provided by SITAOnAir's rival Panasonic Avionics (Global Communications Suite (GCS)) for its fleet of Boeing 777s and future Airbus A380 deliveries, while existing Airbus A380s for now remain connected through SITAOnAir's service.[2][10]

Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (L band)[edit]

A satellite data unit (SDU) manufactured by Thales and branded TopConnect establishes a backhaul link to the ground through Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband geostationary satellite constellation operating in the L band around 1500 MHz which allows the use of electronically steerable antennas mounted atop the aircraft fuselage and encased within a fiberglass, RF-transparent radome that have a low profile compared to systems operating in the Ku band or Ka band which today still require mechanically steerable antennas with a significantly higher profile. Thus drag and fuel costs are reduced allowing economical operation even on smaller aircraft like business or regional jets. Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband system covers much of the planet except for the polar regions above −82 and below +82 degrees latitude and currently provides symmetric data rates of up to 432 kbit/s per channel dependent on signal quality and overall load on the satellite's spotbeam serving the corresponding geographical area. Currently the Thales SDU can bond two channels resulting in a maximum bandwidth of 864 kbit/s.[11]

Inmarsat GlobalXpress (Ka band)[edit]

There is also a clear upgrade path from SwiftBroadband to Inmarsat's Global Xpress system, a constellation of three Ka band satellites which will come on stream in 2014-2015 and will globally provide downlink bandwidths of up to 50 Mbit/s. SITAOnAir was appointed as distribution partner for Inmarsat's Global Xpress service in November 2011.[12]

Onboard Server[edit]

A server installed onboard manages the satellite connection and routes the data traffic while also compressing and decompressing all data transmitted, including GSM phone calls that are recoded using the AMR codec which reduces bandwidth while maintaining a voice quality virtually indistinguishable from the native GSM codec.

Wi-Fi Network[edit]

Broadband Internet access (Internet OnAir) is provided by Wi-Fi access points. In order to access SITAOnAir's Wi-Fi Internet service (Internet SITAOnAir) passengers need to bring a Wi-Fi compatible device. Access can usually be purchased on board.

GSM Network[edit]

A picocell operating according to the GSM-1800 standard provides a GSM network (Mobile OnAir) enabling voice telephony, SMS and narrowband Internet access (GPRS). The GSM signal is distributed by a leaky line antenna, essentially a coaxial cable with a slotted shielding through which RF signals are radiated. This coaxial cable is installed above the ceiling panels along the whole aircraft cabin and provides a uniform linear coverage of the aircraft cabin at very low radiation power levels. In order to prevent handsets from connecting to terrestrial networks which would lead to high transmission power levels a so-called network control unit (NCU) installed onboard generates a broadband noise floor which is being emitted through the existing leaky line antenna masking reception of terrestrial mobile networks within the aircraft. These measures ensure that handsets can only connect to the onboard GSM network and will then operate with the lowest possible transmission power level (GSM-1800 power control level 15, nominal output power of 0 dBm) which results in significantly lower radiation levels than those experienced on average when using a mobile phone with terrestrial networks on the ground. The GSM network is being realized based on Monaco Telecom's core network. It uses the MCC / MNC tuple 901-15 assigned to SITA, one of SITAOnAir's two owners, in March 2005.[13]

Passenger Equipment Compatibility[edit]

SITAOnAir's inflight cellphone service (Mobile OnAir) requires a mobile phone supporting the GSM-1800 standard, also called DCS (Digital Cellular Service), which most modern GSM phones support as well as a SIM card from a network operator having a roaming agreement with Monaco Telcom. So-called quad-band handsets always support GSM-1800 and so are compatible with Mobile OnAir.

IFE Connectivity[edit]

The system can also provide IP-based connectivity to existing in-flight entertainment systems which allows news content to be fed in and messaging services as well as Internet access to be offered on in-seat units.


SITAOnAir's customers which have been publicly announced are:


Cruise ship operators:

Private jet operators and VIP:

See also[edit]


  1. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Mary Kirby (11 February 2013). "Exclusive: Airbus exits inflight connectivity business with sale of OnAir stake to SITA". APEX. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Global Distribution Systems & Technology Partners". 
  4. ^ Focus (22 September 2011). "Lufthansa: Ja zur SMS im Flieger, nein zu Telefonaten". Focus. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  5. ^ "Philippine Airlines to be launch customer for OnAir Play". 
  6. ^ "Oman Air launches full mobile phone and wi-fi connectivity aboard new Airbus A330s". 
  7. ^ "The new inflight 'must have': An interview with OnAir CEO Ian Dawkins". 
  8. ^ "Emirates puts emphasis on inflight live television as mammoth deal with Panasonic is revealed". 
  9. ^ Mary Kirby (21 August 2012). "Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband is about to get swifter for airlines, business jet operators". APEX. 
  10. ^ Mary Kirby (8 February 2013). "Emirates puts emphasis on inflight live television as mammoth deal with Panasonic is revealed". APEX. Retrieved 14 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Thales launches connectivity demonstrator suite". 
  12. ^ OnAir (29 November 2011). "OnAir selected by Inmarsat as Global Xpress Distribution Partner" (PDF). OnAir. Retrieved 14 July 2012. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "FARNBOROUGH: Emirates to fit 90 A380s with OnAir connectivity". Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "SriLankan Airlines flies its first fully-connected aircraft". 13 Nov 2014. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 


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