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DUBLIN, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Europe’s largest low-fare airline Ryanair (RYA.I) launched an in-flight mobile phone service on Thursday on 20 Dublin-based aircraft and said it would roll it out across its fleet.
“Today’s launch ... is the first step to offering in-flight mobile phone services onboard our entire fleet of over 170 aircraft over the next 18 months,” Ryanair’s chief executive Michael O’Leary said in a statement.
In preparation for the expected widespread use of in-flight mobile telephony, the European Commission last year made plans to harmonise licensing calls around the 27-member bloc.
The Commission said it expected in-flight services to be popular as they will be cheaper than back-of-seat satellite services.
Air France (AIRF.PA) has already been trialling the use of mobiles in-air. A Norwegian budget airline, Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA (NWC.OL), said last year it would offer mobile phone and wireless Internet services on flights.
Customers on Ryanair will be charged international roaming rates for making and receiving calls on board using their own phones. The tariffs will be set by their mobile provider.
The airline’s partner in the venture, OnAir, was formed in 2005 to develop in-flight communications. It is majority-owned by SITA, an airline-owned provider of IT services to the air transport industry, and Airbus is a minority shareholder.
Shares in Ryanair were down 0.95 percent at 3.12 euros in mid-morning trade, underperforming the general index .ISEQ, which was 0.17 percent weaker.
Reporting by Andras Gergely; Editing by Carmel Crimmins, Will Waterman, John Stonestreet