At British Airways it is of paramount importance that we continue to be at the forefront of advances in technology and lead the way in meeting the ever-changing requirements of our business travellers.
We currently offer customers up to six flights a day from Belfast City to London Heathrow as well as excellent connectivity to our extensive global network of almost 130 destinations worldwide from London Heathrow.
The Belfast to London Heathrow service continues to be a key route for British Airways and provides a vital airlink for the flow of business and commerce to both long-haul as well as domestic destinations.
Last week, British Airways launched our new non-stop transatlantic service to Austin, Texas from London Heathrow, which will provide Northern Ireland business customers with direct access to the global technology centre, which has become known as 'Silicon Hills'.
Described recently by CNN as "the innovation hotbed deep in the heart of Texas", Austin hosts a rapidly growing number of blue-chip technology operators such as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Facebook, Cisco Systems, Intel Corporation, Oracle, and United Devices.
By opening up this direct gateway to our Northern Ireland passengers from Heathrow, we hope to provide the potential for business growth in this burgeoning technology market.
In fact, AT&T recently announced plans to open a new centre for technology innovation and collaboration in the city, and the area is gaining a reputation as a location for high-tech start-ups.
The new route to Austin, Texas will operate on a Boeing 787 aircraft five days a week, increasing to daily flights later in the year. Our passengers will be able to choose from three cabins including Club World (business), World Traveller Plus (premium economy) and World Traveller (economy). Each cabin feature stylish new interiors with start-of-the-art entertainment systems.
As well as expanding global connectivity, we have used our extensive experience in serving customers and catering for their needs to meet the growing tecnological requirements of business travellers on-board their aircraft.
As Smartphones and tablets become common place and there is an increased expectation to stay Wi-Fi connected at all times, British Airways has launched a year-long trial on our Boeing 747-400 aircraft to measure customer demand for internet access on board as well as monitoring the technical performance of the system.
The trial, which is called High Life Connect forms part of our wider strategy at British Airways of continuing to lead the way in providing the best customer travel experience.
High Life Connect will operate on a range of different routes and will see selected aircraft fitted with a Panasonic Global Communications Suite. New First customers on selected flights from London Heathrow will be offered an array of connectivity options to trial the product.
Flights will test Wi-Fi internet via a T-Mobile hotspot with the option of buying an hourly rate or a flight pass valid for 24 hours to allow customers to use text and email on their devices. This gives passengers the option of staying in touch with colleagues and clients or simply allows them the opportunity to relax, surf the web and connect with friends and family in real time.
As the aircraft will be fitted with phone connectivity, passengers are able to receive data and texts over their mobiles but at this stage we have taken the decision not to extend this to voice calls following customer feedback.
Media streaming will be available to customers to give them access to live television broadcasts from BBC World, CNN, Euro News and Sport 24, helping our passengers to stay connected to breaking news across the world while on board their long-haul flight.
British Airways will also offer access to a number of free microsites which will include inspirational information and content from BA Holidays with the opportunity to purchase from ba.com.
There is also an American Express site to tie in the British Airways Avios card, which customers can apply for in flight.
In addition to this recent trial, we have also now relaxed our mobile phone policy allowing passengers to use their mobile phones and iPads during take-off and landing, provided they have been put onto the "flight safe" mode.
These on-board advances form part of British Airways ongoing policy of constantly striving to improve the customer experience and leading the way in the fast-expanding digital world.