Air Canada plans to install in-flight e-mail and Internet services from Tenzing Communications Inc. on its entire fleet, based on positive passenger response during a six-month test on five Boeing 767 aircraft.
Lise Fournel, Air Canada's executive vice president, said in a statement that the carrier was "very pleased with the passenger response from our trial with the Tenzing services, and are committed to expand the service throughout our fleet. ... Tenzing is clearly the front-runner in this industry."
Tenzing, which is 30 percent owned by Airbus Industrie, the French aircraft manufacturer, announced the deal with Air Canada at the Paris Air Show. Just yesterday it signed an agreement to provide in-flight Internet services on Boeing 777 aircraft operated by Brazil-based Varig SA. The rival Connexion by The Boeing Co. service, which last week signed its first three U.S. carriers, American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Air Lines Inc., signed up Germany-based Deutsche Lufthansa AG at the start of the air show on Saturday.
Air Canada and Varig are both members of the Star Alliance spearheaded by United, which with American and Delta also owns an undisclosed portion of Connexion by Boeing. Tenzing had already signed a deal with Singapore Airlines Ltd. and is conducting tests with Scandinavian Airlines System, two other Star Alliance members.
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., said the airlines' choice of Tenzing "shows that United is not able to dictate the choice of an in-flight Internet service to its Star Alliance partners."
But on a more practical note, Reiter said frequent flyers who do a lot of business on Star Alliance carriers will be faced with the prospect of "setting up two different subscriptions and carrying multiple sets of cables to access different in-flight systems." Global road warriors are also potential users of public-access wireless LAN networks installed in an increasing number of airports and airport lounges, requiring even more subscriptions, software and hardware, Reiter said.
John Reber, a spokesman for Air Canada, said connecting to the two different in-flight Internet systems shouldn't be that complex. "All you have to do is download the software," he said.
Air Canada passengers will have a 56K bit/sec. connection from seat-back phones to an on-board Tenzing server, which holds cached Web pages and transfers e-mail on a store-and-forward basis. On domestic flights, Air Canada will transmit e-mail at 9.6K bit/sec over the North American "Airfone" network, while international flights will send and receive e-mail at 24K bit/sec over the Inmarsat satellite network.
Reber said Air Canada plans to phase in the service gradually between now and the end of 2003. Air Canada currently operates more than 300 planes, although Reber said that shouldn't be viewed as a static number, "since airlines are constantly changing their fleets."