Japan Airlines to offer in-flight Internet with Boeing

Japan Airlines Co. (JAL) intends to begin offering Internet access on some of its aircraft flying between Japan and Europe and has signed a preliminary agreement with a unit of The Boeing Co. to provide the service, the companies have announced.

JAL has signed a letter of intent with Connexion by Boeing, a Boeing unit that is promoting and operating a broadband data communications service that relies on satellites to deliver Internet connectivity to aircraft. The letter calls for the service to be installed on 10 long-haul aircraft as a first step, with an option on equipping additional aircraft in the future.

Financial terms of the deal and timing of the service launch were not disclosed however a report in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun business daily said JAL plans to introduce the service in 2004.

The service offers a capacity of up to 20M bps (bits per second) downstream to the aircraft and 1M bps from the aircraft although those speeds could vary considerably due to weather and other factors. As a minimum, Boeing says customers should be able to access the Internet at the same speed as a dial-up modem, 56K bps.

The deal makes JAL the first Asian airline to sign up for the service, for which Germany's Lufthansa AG is expected to become the first airline user later this year. British Airways Plc will follow with a launch next year, according to Boeing, which already markets the service to private and executive aircraft owners in the U.S.

The service suffered a setback late last year when, as passengers avoided air travel in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., AMR Corp.'s American Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines Inc. all said they were putting plans to roll out Connexion-based services on 500 aircraft in their respective fleets on hold. With intercontinental flights between Asia and Europe or the Americas often lasting more than 12 hours, Asian airlines are keen to provide e-mail and Internet services to their customers.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific began offering a delay-based e-mail service on some of its aircraft last year, using a system developed by Seattle-based Tenzing Communications Inc. The same system is also in use or plans to be used by Air Canada, Singapore Airlines Ltd., Varig and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. Tenzing is working with Airbus Industrie, Boeing's European-based rival, on the system.

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