A total of 186 aircraft flown by ten airlines have been fitted with satellite technology to receive live coverage, meaning that 84,000 passengers will have the chance to be among the first to watch the tournament live in flight.
These include 93 Lufthansa jets equipped with the latest in-flight TV capability but just one British Airways aircraft which is running a trial of the system.
US electronics company Panasonic showcased its technology on the sidelines of the Iata annual general meeting in Qatar.
“We are the only people crazy enough to do this because it is so expensive,” David Bruner, vice-president of global communications services, told The Times. “It is the only global television service and this is specific to aeroplanes. It is really a marvel.”
Its software decodes satellite signals carrying the footage, re-encrypts them and transmits the information to 13 “teleports” around the world that send and receive data from 19 satellites orbiting Earth.
The encrypted signals are beamed back down from the satellites and can be interpreted by any aircraft that has subscribed to Panasonic’s live sports channel. The images are relayed through the jets’ in-flight entertainment systems and broadcast at no charge to passengers.
Bruner said the biggest challenge had been developing a small and aerodynamic satellite receiver capable of picking up data during turbulence on board an aircraft travelling at 500mph.
The receiver, which is smaller than a traditional satellite dish, rotates to remain locked on to the satellite. It costs between ten and 100 times more to beam footage on to an aircraft than to a terrestrial user, but airlines are not charging passengers directly for the service.
BA is running a trial of the system aboard a single jet that will cover some flights bound for Brazil.