Aircell-Sourced System To Begin Trial Runs In June
Air France may be the first airline to allow passengers to use cell phones in flight,
but American Airlines apparently will be the first to give us
American tells The Dallas Morning News it has installed the
Aircell LLC wireless Internet system on a Boeing 767 for a test.
The airline says 15 planes will be equipped for the trial run,
which is expected to begin in June after a thorough shakedown to
find any technical issues. Users will be able to access secured
corporate sites, shop online and even download entertainment.
In contrast to Boeing's ill-fated Connexion system -- which
weighed a half-ton, used a surfboard-size antenna to link with
satellites, and was only ever used by a handful of fliers --
Aircell's equipment weighs about 125 pounds, costs about $100,000
per plane, and uses two small antennas on the belly of the plane to
communicate through ground-based infrastructure. Most common
consumer wi-fi devices will be compatible.
Surveys by Forrester Research indicate the market for the
service has grown in the past few years -- 45 percent of leisure
travelers in the survey responded they wanted internet access
during flights of four hours or more, and were willing to pay $10
for it. 24 percent said they'd buy it even on flights as short as
one to two hours.
Henry Harteveldt, a Forrester Research analyst, said leisure
travelers were surveyed because their decisions aren't based on
expense accounts. Demand among business travelers who can get
reimbursed or write off the cost is expected to be even higher.
An Aircell system can accommodate up
to 256 users on an individual access point, and American will have
three access points per aircraft. The individual access points use
antennas said to resemble an air hockey mallet. They'll be hidden
behind overhead luggage bins.
John Gebka, a salesman from Kentucky, told the paper he can't
wait. "It would shorten my day, that's for sure," he said, as he
hurried to check e-mail and charge his laptop between flights at
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport last week.
Kevin Hager, a consultant who flies two or three times a month,
remarked, "It adds two to three hours of productivity to your day.
Now, that's just dead time."
Pricing is not set, but Aircell predicts access during trips
over three hours long will cost travelers $12.95, while shorter
flights will be around $10. The company says it's working on daily,
monthly and yearly subscriptions for frequent travelers.
American has committed to installing the system on 767-200s used
to fly the carrier's transcontinental routes, but will expand
quickly to other fleets if the test is successful. The incremental
revenue will help the carrier's bottom line, but any marketing
advantage could be short-lived -- Virgin America also plans to
install the Aircell system in 2008.