Lufthansa tries to revive in-flight Internet access

German airline Lufthansa seeks support from a satellite or consumer electronics company

German airline Lufthansa is in talks with several companies that it hopes might revive the in-flight Internet access service currently provided by Boeing. That service is scheduled to shut down on Dec. 31.

Lufthansa hopes that a satellite company or perhaps a consumer electronics company will become an in-flight Internet access service provider, said Michael Lamberty, a spokesman for Lufthansa.

Boeing announced in August that it would shut down its Connexion Internet access service.

Lufthansa had equipped the most planes of any customer of the service, and continued to equip planes even after Boeing made its announcement, Lamberty said. "It would have resulted in higher costs to stop the process than to continue," he said. Lufthansa has 66 Internet-ready aircraft out of a total of 80 long-haul planes.

At the time of its announcement, Boeing said that it had looked for buyers for Connexion but failed to make a deal. That means that any new provider has to build its own system. "Technically it would not be possible to just switch over to another provider as there is no other such provider," Lamberty said.

Lufthansa and the companies it is talking to are investigating new technologies for delivering the service that could involve replacing some but not all of the existing equipment. For example, the companies could use lighter equipment that would allow airlines to save on fuel costs.

The airline was averaging 30,000 Internet connections per month and 40 users per flight, Lamberty said. Since October the service has been free, because Boeing stopped supporting the billing system, and Lufthansa has been unable to collect statistics since then.

Lufthansa continues to develop projects that rely on the onboard Internet connections. For example, the airline is working on a telemedicine application that would let staff better diagnose passenger medical emergencies.

In September, Panasonic Avionics told a blog that it was trying to secure commitment from enough airlines to take the place of Connexion. Panasonic offers antennas for planes that weigh less and can deliver higher throughput than the antennas Boeing offered.

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Nancy Gohring

IDG News Service
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