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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 14:43 GMT
The internet takes to the air
Passenger jet on approach, Corbis
Swap the mile-high club for the file-high club
The days of a journey on an aircraft being a welcome break from the hurly burly of modern life are over.

On 15 January Lufthansa will start offering travellers the ability to surf the net and send and receive e-mails in real time as they fly.

The in-flight net service will use satellite links to connect passengers to the terrestrial internet and help businesses contact executives while they are flying across the Atlantic.

For the duration of the three month trial the net service will be offered free to Lufthansa customers.

Surf and fly

The first commercial service giving passengers in-flight net access will operate between Frankfurt and Dulles airport in Washington DC.

During the trial passengers who want to use the net while they fly will have to use their own laptop and connect either via a traditional ethernet connection or a wireless link.

Scott Carson, senior vice president at Boeing in charge of the in-flight net project, said the service differed from other services which limited net surfing to websites held on a server on the plane and stored e-mails for delivery once the plane had landed.

By contrast, said Mr Carson, the Boeing service used satellite links to maintain constant connection with the ground and the terrestrial internet.

Lufthansa tailplane, AP
Lufthansa is first to offer the service
"Over the last five years the need for business travellers to be connected has continued to increase as technology has allowed the world to move at a faster pace," he said.

The three month trial will help Boeing iron out last minute problems with the in-flight net service, said Mr Carson.

"It's a long enough period that we can get some good data and it leaves us time to incorporate anything we learn into the full scale roll out due early next year," he said.

Safety work

Boeing has signed up 15 airlines to the in-flight service, including British Airways and Scandinavia's SAS.

Lufthansa has become the flag bearer for the service following successful trials aboard a Lufthansa 747 in May 2002.

Mr Carson said initially the service will be available on routes across the Atlantic but will be extended to routes to Asia if there is enough demand.

Expanding the service would be a simple matter of leasing more transponders on satellites, he said.

On board an aircraft passengers can choose to connect via a laptop or PDA.

While the initial trial was free, Mr Carson said airlines were looking at a variety of payment options for the full commercial service.

Some were likely to include the cost in the price of a business ticket, others may add a surcharge and some airlines were considering using pre-paid cards for those that just want to check e-mail or catch up with news.

Mr Carson said there were no safety implications when using a laptop and wireless connections during the flight, though he said computers will still have to be turned off during take-off and landing.

Mr Carson said one of the factors delaying the rollout of the system was winning regulatory approval to send data back and forth from aircraft.

The in-flight net systems have been developed and installed by Connexion by Boeing, a subsidiary of the giant aircraft company.

See also:

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