Gulf Air first to offer live television coverage

Gulf Air becomes the first carrier to stream live television onboard as airline tech wars heat up.

Gulf Air yesterday announced it has taken delivery of the first aircraft in the world to feature live television satellite streaming across continents. Phil Weymouth / Bloomberg
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Travelling sports fans will be able to follow the Rugby World Cup live on television from 30,000ft up in the air.

Gulf Air passengers can enjoy coverage of the competition in New Zealand, as well as the English Premier League (EPL) football or general news from the comfort of their seat in a new aircraft fitted out with the latest high-tech entertainment.

The national carrier of Bahrain yesterday announced it had taken delivery of the first aircraft in the world to feature live television satellite streaming across continents.

The development means passengers will no longer have to wait until they land to find out their sports team's score or the latest breaking news.

"It is another important milestone in our customer service journey," said Samer Majali, the Gulf Air chief executive.

"I am sure this avant-garde, cutting-edge technology will fundamentally change our passengers' communications and entertainment experience onboard, setting a new standard for in-flight entertainment."

Apart from the live TV service, the airline's entertainment system, called Sky Hub, will offer broadband connectivity to access internet and mobile phone services.

Competition has been heating up between Gulf carriers offering the latest in-flight technology as airlines seek to lure passengers by differentiating themselves from their rivals. Oman Air became the first airline to offer both mobile and broadband internet on its flights in August.

Etihad Airways offers a selection of films and channels and music, with 23-inch widescreen TV sets in Diamond First Class. Passengers can also make onboard telephone calls. Ice (information, communications and entertainment), Emirates Airline's system, showcases the latest films, as well as news, business and sports headlines from the BBC. Phone, SMS or email technology is also available.

Qatar Airways offers similar in-flight entertainment.

It's all a far cry from the recent past when passengers were told to switch off their mobile phones and other electronic devices for their flights.

In-flight entertainment used to mean reading a book or newspaper during the journey.

Gulf Air teamed up with the electronics firm Panasonic Avionics and the telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom to upgrade its offering.

The carrier yesterday received its first A330-200 aircraft fitted with the technology and plans to roll out the service across its entire fleet progressively.

"We are excited about our future collaboration with Gulf Air," said Olivier Baujard, the chief technology officer of Deutsche Telekom. "Together, we can now offer a new and bigger international group of customers the use of high-speed internet access also in the sky. The expansion of our Wi-Fi offering is an important element in the development of our networks."

Passengers can tune into IMG Media's television offering that includes EPL coverage, other sporting events and news channels such as BBC World News, BBC Arabic and Euronews.

AeroMobile, a phone service provider for the aviation industry, was also involved in the technology revamp.

Emirates broke new ground in 2006 when the carrier signed an agreement to become the London-based company's first customer. AeroMobile's first commercial in-flight GSM service was launched on an Emirates plane flying from Dubai to Casablanca in March 2008.