Boeing's Connexion is reconnected ... sort of
Four years after it pulled the plug on the wireless Internet system Connexion, provided by Boeing, one of the world's largest aerospace companies, German airliner Lufthansa is bringing it back.
Earlier this month, the international carrier relaunched FlyNet broadband Internet service, joining a long list of airlines that provide Wi-Fi connection. Nearly all of the major U.S. carriers now have the Internet service.
But when the FlyNet system was originally launched in 2004, it was one of the first times that Internet was available on a commercial jet.
The satellite-based service was developed by Boeing Co. and cost $30 for unlimited access during a flight or by the minute, with the first 30 minutes costing about $10.
Several international carriers followed Lufthansa, offering Boeing's system on a handful of long-haul flights. But it quickly became clear that people weren't willing to pay that amount at the time. And Boeing pulled the plug on the program in late 2006, saying it wasn't financially viable.
It was a major headache for Boeing, which called the system Connexion, because it sunk more than $1 billion into development.
But now, with many people carrying laptops or Internet-ready hand-held devices these days, demand for broadband is higher than ever. So Lufthansa is bringing its FlyNet service back -- only without Boeing.
Instead it will be provided by Lake Forest-based Panasonic Avionics Corp. and will initially be available on aircraft that were already outfitted with the Connexion hardware. Passengers connect to the Internet with Wi-Fi devices placed within the plane's cabin. Unlimited access will now cost $26.
There is stiff competition in the market with companies such as Aircell, which uses a network of ground antenna sites across the U.S. to establish a link with the airplane. Aircell is available on all Virgin America and AirTran Airways flights. It can also be found on some American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta Air Lines flights. Aircell's typical charge for a single session ranges from $6 to $13.
Westlake Village-based Row 44 landed a contract with Dallas-based Southwest in January to provide Wi-Fi on the airline’s fleet of more than 540 planes. Row 44 is slated to have the entire fleet wired by 2013. The service will cost $5.
-- W.J. Hennigan
Photo: A Lufthansa Airbus A380 rolls on to the runway before taking off from Frankfurt airport in the central German city of Frankfurt. Credit: AFP/Marius Becker