British Airways is in advanced talks to become Inmarsat’s first client on the in-flight internet service, initially on domestic routes.
The price for passengers will be set by the airlines, Inmarsat said.
Inmarsat has ordered a new satellite named Europasat, which will team up with ground transmitters to beam a high-speed 4G broadband connection across the EU.
The project is expected to cost Inmarsat between $200m and $250m over six years. Another operator, Hellas Sat, will also contribute to the cost of the satellite, which will be built in France by Thales Alenia Space.
The service will depend on regulatory clearance from the 28 EU member states. The firm said it is confident that it will get a green light, given its prior approval for other satellite services and “strong support for its applications from many EU telecoms regulators”.
The company was responsible for detecting empty ping signals from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370, allowing the search teams to narrow down the plane’s possible crash sites dramatically.
While Inmarsat’s plan is a first for Europe, several telecoms groups are already fighting for customers on the other side of the Atlantic.
Gogo launched its in-air broadband with American Airlines in 2008, and AT&T plans to introduce a similar service with aerospace group Honeywell next year.
“This announcement is an important investment in new infrastructure that will promote productivity and growth in the UK and across Europe,” said David Willetts, minister for universities and science.
Shares in FTSE 250-listed Inmarsat closed up 2.5 per cent at 736.5p yesterday.