Canada, isn’t it time for inflight wireless?

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Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet recently announced plans for bringing Ku-band satellite-supported inflight connectivity and live television to its fleet, plus wireless IFE, but the carrier must still surmount regulatory hurdles in Canada before offering these services to passengers.

A spokeswoman for Transport Canada tells Runway Girl Network that Canadian aviation regulations still prohibit “the use of transmittable devices such as Wi-Fi services while in-flight”. This is somewhat stunning in light of the fact that Transport Canada has been working on loosening these restrictions for years, and Air Canada offers Gogo inflight Wi-Fi on select Airbus A319 transborder flights.

Transport Canada in an online statement says: “In Canada, passengers who use transmitting portable electronic devices (T-PEDS), such as smartphones, e-readers, or tablets need to ensure they are in airplane mode before using them on an aircraft.

“Using a 3G or Wi-Fi connection is currently permitted only during the taxi-in phase of flight. Some flights are allowed to use Wi-Fi service, on a trial basis, in Canadian airspace.”

The Transport Canada spokeswoman further clarifies to Runway Girl Network: “If an operator does wish to use Wi-Fi on board an aircraft they have to get permission from Transport Canada.”

The timeline for bringing Wi-Fi to WestJet, she adds, “would be determined from receipt of WestJet’s application. At this point, WestJet has not yet requested Transport Canada’s permission to use Wi-Fi technology on board their flights.”

WestJet has tapped Panasonic Avionics for its new cadre of wireless goods – Internet, live TV and streaming video – and this is part of a broader retrofit program that will see the carrier bring new seats to its aircraft. The airline says it will install the Ku connectivity system on at least one of its Boeing 737-800s before the end of the year, so the carrier’s application to Transport Canada must surely be forthcoming soon (as these things can take time). WestJet currently offers LiveTV’s live television seat-back IFE system on its aircraft, but this system will be gradually phased out as Panasonic Ku connectivity – and a pure wireless environment – is rolled in.

A current stipulation from Transport Canada is worth nothing as it pertains to the onboard passenger experience. “Remove headsets or earphones connected to a portable electronic device for boarding, taxi, take-off, landing, deplaning and while walking to and from the aircraft. Why? Headsets and earphones make you less aware of safety hazards and less able to hear crew and ground personnel instructions, especially during an emergency,” says Transport Canada.

As US airlines and European carriers increasingly enjoy gate-to-gate use of T-PEDs – and Southwest Airlines even offers gate-to-gate Wi-Fi access – one wonders how quickly Canada will move on this issue.

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