Airline Internet access battle takes off

Airline Internet access battle takes off

The race to take the Internet to the skies continued at the Paris Air Show this week, with Boeing and Tenzing Communications each signing up a new partner at the premier annual show of the aviation industry.

Boeing, which launched its Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet service with three US partners last week, announced at the show on Saturday that it had signed its first foreign partner: Deutsche Lufthansa in Germany. Yesterday, Tenzing, which is partly owned by European aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industrie, announced that VARIG SA, the largest airline in South America, had agreed to install its in-flight Internet and e-mail system on all new Boeing 777 aircraft.

United Airlines, VARIG and Lufthansa are all members of the Star Alliance, a consortium of airlines that offers passengers easy through-ticketing, airport lounge access and the ability to accumulate frequent-flier miles on all member airlines. And the choice of competing Internet providers by VARIG and Lufthansa indicates that the battle between Boeing and Tenzing won't break cleanly along alliance lines.

Tenzing said VARIG would start offering its service in the fourth quarter, while Boeing didn't provide a launch date for the Lufthansa service, which will be offered on all of the carrier's intercontinental aircraft.

Boeing said it expected to start its service with its US partners, United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, in the second half of 2002. Boeing plans to offer a minimum throughput of 56K bit/sec. and a maximum of 1.5M bit/sec.

Tenzing has already signed agreements with Cathay Pacific Airways, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Airways in London for its service, which offers store-and-forward service to and from the ground at 2.4K bit/sec.

Under that system, e-mail is transmitted to and from the ground at intervals during the flight, with e-mail attachments limited to 500K.

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