What prevented Wi-Fi on board Indian aircraft?
Fears like the aircraft being taken over by hackers on ground who may use it as a missile or hijackers on board taking directions from their handlers had prevented security agencies from allowing the use of WiFi services on board Indian airplanes.
These security concerns seem to have finally been addressed with the government set to allow passengers to use WiFi services on board. Aviation secretary RN Choubey said the decision to allow WiFi on-board could be taken as early as in the next ten days.
At present, foreign carriers flying over India provide WiFi services only once they are out of the Indian airspace.
“Security on-board flights emerged as a key area of concern after the hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane on way to Delhi from Kathmandu on December 24, 1999. It has been feared that a hijacker on-board an aircraft may take directions from his handlers on the ground. An aircraft could also be used as a missile if its systems are penetrated and could be used to target sensitive installations,” said a senior ministry official, who did not wish to be named.
India started deploying air marshals on random basis on domestic flights as well as on some international routes after the Indian Airlines hijacking incident. Sky marshals are armed plainclothes security officers on board a commercial aircraft to counter hijacking.
Asked whether there were any security issues in not allowing WiFi in flights, Choubey said the important thing was the “ability to track voice and data” if need be.
“Indian agencies have the ability of tracking calls made mid-air and data,” said another official, on condition of anonymity. Various ministries including aviation, home and telecom have already arrived at a consensus to allow WiFi services.
Indian carriers are excited about the move. “This will be a good move. We want to offer the best services to our passengers,” said Amit Agarwal, CEO, Jet Airways.
“WiFi on board will help airlines make extra money and allow passengers access mails and make calls at cruising heights,” said aviation expert Rajji Rai.