By Steve McCaskill
Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) says the use of iPass' global network of WiFi hotspots has made its staff more productive and has helped to reduce its roaming bill.
The airline currently serves 120 destinations around the world and operates 791 flights a day, meaning much of its workforce is spread out across far-flung locations, but need an Internet connection not only to do their jobs and keep in touch with friends and family.
WiFi in the Sky
This need for connectivity was highlighted by the company's project to digitize paper manuals and charts for pilots and replace them with an electronic flight bag containing an iPad, which could be constantly updated with the latest documentation.
Additionally, it would also help the airline's ongoing desire to reduce weight, thereby saving on its annual fuel bill. However to update the iPad, pilots would have to use 3G networks or unreliable WiFi connections, which is expensive and inconvenient.
iPass does not own any WiFi infrastructure itself, but instead provides access to 15 million hotspots through a single log-in and billing system.
Of course, WiFi doesn't cover everywhere, so pilots and flight crew can still use a cellular connection whenever they want, but with iPass hotspots located in hotels and airports, much of the data consumed by SAS staff is directed over WiFi rather than 3G or 4G.
At the moment, around 2,000 employees have access to the iPass network, but SAS wants to make it available to as many people as possible following positive feedback from staff and acknowledging that once you make something available to a certain group of people, more people will want access.
"It's very hard to keep it limited to a certain group," said Ashi Hoseini, manager of mobile solutions at SAS. "That's something we're working on."
However, she admits that a lot of IT infrastructure isn't ready for mobile yet and that it's a big challenge facing her company.
But in-flight WiFi is something coveted by passengers as well. A number of U.S. airlines already offer such services while British Airways plans to launch WiFi in 2016 once a new S-band satellite called Europasat is live.
Hoseini confirmed that SAS plans to follow suit on some of its long-haul flights in the near future, meaning that crew and passengers can stay connected even in the air.