China Airlines scales back in-flight Internet plans

Taiwan's largest airline, China Airlines, has scaled back plans to offer The Boeing Co.'s in-flight Internet service on its fleet of aircraft, saying it first wants to see how the Connexion by Boeing service is received by passengers before considering a wider roll-out.

China Airlines plans to sign a deal on Wednesday with Boeing that will clear the way for the Connexion by Boeing in-flight Internet service to be offered on board one of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft used on routes from Taiwan to North America, said Cheryl Yeh, a spokeswoman for the company in Taipei. The in-flight Internet service will gradually be extended to other Boeing 747-400s in China Airlines' fleet of aircraft, she said.

Australian passengers will have to wait a while though. China Airlines only flies into Australia on Airbus' A340-300 aeroplanes.

The Connexion by Boeing service uses a wired or wireless LAN on board the aircraft to connect users via satellite to the Internet. The connection is shared among all passengers and has a downstream bandwidth to the aircraft of 5M bps (bits per second) and upstream bandwidth of 1M bps.

The deal with Boeing will make China Airlines the fifth airline to sign up for the Connexion by Boeing service. However, China Airlines' plans to offer the service have been scaled back from plans first announced in January 2003, Yeh said. At that time, China Airlines announced it would offer in-flight Internet access on its fleet of Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A340-300 aircraft before the end of this year.

"For now, we don't have any plans to install this on the Airbus (planes)," Yeh said. "We want to do this gradually, one aircraft at a time."

China Airlines operates 13 Boeing 747-400s and seven A340-300s, according to its Web site.

In-flight Internet access via the Connexion service from Asian skies has been available since June this year, when Lufthansa AG launched the service on its flights between Munich and Tokyo.

The first regular service on an inter-regional Asian flight began on Monday when Japan's All Nippon Airways (ANA) started offering it on flights between Tokyo and Shanghai. ANA is offering wireless LAN access to the service throughout the aircraft and passengers in first and business class also have to option of connecting via a wired connection.

The service, dubbed ANA@Air by the airline, will be charged at the regular Connexion rates, which are US$19.95 for the duration of the flight, or US$7.95 for the first 30 minutes of use and US$0.25 for every minute thereafter. ANA said it will take delivery of an additional five Boeing 777-300ER aircraft between now and the end of March 2007 that will be equipped with the service. The airline will begin retrofitting its intercontinental 747-400 jumbo jets from April next year and plans to offer the service on flights to North America as soon as satellite coverage above the Pacific Ocean is available.

In addition, Boeing has also received firm orders for the system from Japan Airlines System and SAS AB's Scandinavian Airline Systems. South Korea's Asiana Airlines and Korean Air and Singapore Airlines have also signed preliminary agreements to install the service.

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