(LONDON-AFP) - British satellite operator Inmarsat intends to help air passengers to stay in touch during flight in the European Union, it announced on Thursday, taking a lead from a boom in the United States.

The company said it would provide in-flight broadband wifi services to passengers flying within the European Union.

Inmarsat, whose raw data has been used in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, said in a statement that it has joined forces with European peer Hellas-Sat to order a powerful new satellite from French-Italian firm Thales Alenia Space.

For delivery in 2016, the satellite will set up an air-to-ground network across the EU costing $200 million to $250 million (150 million euros-184 million euros) over six years, Inmarsat said in a statement.

The satellite -- named Europasat -- will be operated on a shared basis, halving Inmarsat's additional deployment costs of $200 million.

The company noted that North America had already witnessed keen demand for in-flight passenger Internet services with the success of Gogo, which supplies in-flight connectivity services to airlines.

"We believe that the same in-flight connectivity opportunity exists in Europe and that, with the support of EU telecoms regulators, Inmarsat can rapidly bring to market unique, high speed aviation passenger connectivity services to meet this market demand on an EU-wide basis," said its chief executive Rupert Pearce.

"A number of European airlines are aligned with this vision and we are absolutely delighted to announce advanced discussions with British Airways to be a launch customer on our new aviation network," he added in the Inmarsat statement.

In a separate statement, Thales Alenia Space chief executive Jean-Loic Galle said "agreement for a shared satellite is the result of many months of fruitful joint work by Thales Alenia Space, Inmarsat and Hellas-Sat".