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Free Internet climbs aboard

Uğur CEBECİ

ucebeci@hurriyet.com.tr


Internet connection onboard, a service rapidly spreading among airliners, is increasingly preferred by passengers everyday. The service offered at prices starting from $4.95 is planned to be changed into a free-of-charge service in a few years as it becomes more widespread.  

When German Lufthansa Airlines started the Internet service called Connextion it cooperated with Boeing in design, it was considered as the opening of a new era in the skies. Passengers could go online on their laptops at 10,000 meters.

However, low connection speed and the high cost of the service came in between the product and the consumer demand and Boeing had to halt the service in 2006 since it did not receive the expected interest.

In the five years that has passed, as Internet addiction surged, high technologies, high speed and falling prices and costs have triggered renewed interest in this market on the part of airliners. Today, there is wireless Internet connection on 1,287 airplanes operated by 23 airliners. Laptops, tablets and android mobile phones can connect to the Internet onboard. Services like sending SMS to other mobile phones are also getting increasingly widespread.

The high demand for interest originates from the U.S and the Middle Eastern markets. European carriers are slowly taking their place in this sector. The fiercer the competition gets, the more the prices fall. The average prices in the U.S. for an hour’s connection start from $5. Some carriers charge $49.95 for 30 days unlimited service use.

Lufthansa offers an hour’s connection at 10.95 euros or in exchange for 3,500 frequent flier miles. A 24-hour package is 19.95 euros or 7,000 miles. The calculations of the previous year show that the Internet service contributed $90 million to U.S. airliners’ turnover.

As the service spreads, it is expected that the carriers will start offering the Internet service free-of-charge to attract more passengers, as is the case with airport cafes and restaurants.

Turkish Airlines to launch the service in June

Turkish Airlines, or THY, preferred the KU-band satellite-based system developed by Panasonic on the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A330-300 type long-distance aircrafts that recently began to be delivered to the company. The first deliveries fell short of the system’s requirements for cabling service but the second order to be delivered in June will be properly equipped.

These aircrafts have a new seat design that facilitates sending emails or SMS messages on the personal screens at the back of each seat by use of a remote control for $1.60. As the system is put into service, laptops, mobile tablet computers and mobile phones switched to the airplane mode will be able to connect to the wireless Internet and to send SMS’s.

Turkey’s flag carrier also plans to offer the service at a price, however, the passengers will also be able to use the service in exchange for miles.

The first airliner offering the SMS and email service onboard was Oman Air. All long-distance aircraft owned by the airliner are equipped with wireless Internet connection service provided by OnAir.

By the end of last year, Lufthansa reinstated the service it brought to a halt in 2004. The fastest Internet connection is provided by Alaska Airlines. The Internet speed reaches up to 35 Mbps.


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