It seems ironic that India, a country known partly for tech firms and call centers, is a place where its national airline isn't allowed to operate in-flight WiFi in its airspace. But, that's what Air India discovered after having announced the addition of WiFi to their fleet in January.

In fact, it's not just Air India, but no airline can operate WiFi while airborne within India's borders. The Indian government's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) requirement 3.1 states:

"No person shall use any electronic device, which intentionally transmits radio signals like mobile/cellular phones, amateur radio transceivers, etc at all times while on board an aircraft for the purpose of flight." It also cites a corresponding rule in Aircraft rule (29 B): "No person shall operate, nor shall the operator or the pilot-in-command of an aircraft allow the operation of any portable electronic device on board an aircraft in flight."

Air India had been meeting with OnAir, a provider of internet and mobile connectivity to several airlines around the world, when this stumbling block was discovered. An official with Air India said:

"We were shown a real time presentation of aircraft in air using Wi-Fi and/or mobile connectivity. All planes over India were shown in red, meaning they had neither of these two connections. We were told that India does not allow these two things in air and so even planes of foreign airlines equipped with Wi-Fi and/or mobile connectivity have to switch their systems off, while flying over the country."

Air India says it wouldn't make sense to install the WiFi systems if they can only be used outside of India, and they will work with the government (who also owns the airline) to have the restriction lifted. It has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy the past couple of years, facing strong domestic competition from low-cost carriers like Jet Airways, and international opposition from Singapore Airlines. The airline is in the process of upgrading its fleet to newer, more efficient planes like the Boeing 787, and also has the Airbus A320-NEO on order.

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Source: Times of India

Top image: Air India 777-3ER by BriYYZ on Flickr, for Creative Commons commercial use