Rockwell abandons in-flight TV, Internet systems

Rockwell International Corp. in Milwaukee announced this week it would halt development on its In-Flight Network entertainment system for aircraft.

The Internet, live television and e-mail system would have provided a continuous broadband connection for travellers on shorter domestic flights where it wouldn't be feasible to show videotapes of feature-length movies.

The In-Flight entertainment system was to be developed by the Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Rockwell Collins Inc. division of the company in conjunction with New York-based News Corp.

The Internet link was also expected to be a draw for business travellers, but the airlines are not showing real interest in providing the service to their customers, the company said.

"The market for broadband has not progressed beyond the demonstration trial phase with the airlines," said Rockwell Collins spokeswoman Kelly Holland. That, she said, means while Rockwell has pitched the In-Flight Network service to several airlines, none has requested an actual demonstration, and therefore Rockwell does not even have a cost estimate for the product.

While interest is tepid at best now, Rockwell Collins will revisit the program in 45 to 60 days, Holland said, "The joint venture has not been dissolved."

Last week, Virgin Atlantic Airways in London last week announced it would provide limited, in-flight access to e-mail and the Internet by caching popular Web pages every hour or so. The cost of retrofitting each plane with the new technology is approximately US$50,000, according to Tenzing Communications Inc. in Seattle, the company installing the wireless connection.

In Seattle, The Boeing Co. is working on its Connexion service, which would bring broadband access and live television broadcasts to first-class and business-class passengers.