Print 26 comment(s) - last by Bremen7000.. on Jan 24 at 4:58 PM

In-flight WiFi is coming to the friendly skies

We live in a connected world -- some may say that we all are too connected when it comes to electronic devices. American Airlines is looking to satisfy our cravings for "all access anywhere" with in-flight WiFi beginning this summer.

Southwest is partnering with Row 44 to provide high-speed satellite Internet access. The airline will equip four of its aircraft with the service starting in summer 2008.

"Southwest Airlines is pleased to announce its partnership with Row 44, and we intend to deliver the highest bandwidth available to commercial airlines in the United States," said Southwest Senior VP of marketing Dave Ridley. "Southwest's selection of satellite technology will offer a more robust experience for more Customers per aircraft versus other solutions available in the marketplace. Southwest is looking for the best solution for our Customers not only for Internet e-mail access, but for additional in-flight entertainment as well."

American Airlines will first roll the service out with its Boeing 767-200 airliners. These large aircraft typically make long, cross-country flights. After the initial test phase with the 767s, American Airlines will slowly add WiFi to its entire fleet.

The costs for in-flight WiFi are expected to range from $10 for short flight and up to $12.95 for longer, cross-country flights.

The high-speed Internet will be provided by AirCell. According to AirCell, the cost of providing Internet connectivity to a single aircraft is $100,000 USD and adds roughly 100 pounds to the airframe. The equipment can be installed overnight by airline crews.

Southwest and American Airlines are not alone in their testing, however. JetBlue is trialing in-flight WiFi with a single Airbus A320 aircraft dubbed "BetaBlue." JetBlue's service is also provided by AirCell, but it will not charge customers for connectivity.

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RE: I love the wireless "risk" in the sky
By AlphaVirus on 1/23/2008 1:09:39 PM , Rating: 2
There has been zero evidence that personal devices can cause problems with plane systems, and studies have produced evidence that personal devices do NOT pose a risk. amazingly, FAA & airlines still "ban" wireless devices during flights....lame

Ever heard the saying "Safety 1st, and 2nd and 3rd"?

With all the gear already equipped on a plane, adding more frequencies into the air that has not been tested by the airliner, this could cause theoretical problems.

Just like when you are in an xray room, they tell you to do a few things:
1.Turn off your cell phone, or remove them from the room.
2.Wear that heavy vest(although it does not cover every body part)

There is just that uncertainty that lingers around that scares people especially companies that own million dollar planes. If a plane crashes they not only kill people and receive a bad reputation but they also lose millions.

On topic though, how useful is this? I would imagine if it costs $100,000 to install on each plane then it would take forever to recover that loss at only $10/trip. How many people will actually use this besides maybe 2 people per flight?

With plane times shortening, I see no purpose for this unless you are making international flights.

RE: I love the wireless "risk" in the sky
By mac2j on 1/23/2008 1:37:13 PM , Rating: 2
2 people per flight?

I was on BetaBlue - which has VERY limited access actually, just Yahoo Mail and Messenger when I took it - and it seemed like 1/2 the people on the plane were using it.

I actually don't know anyone that wouldn't use it for $10 on a 5-6 hour flight.

By AmbroseAthan on 1/23/2008 2:17:38 PM , Rating: 3
My final in Strategic Planning 401 (final college course) was theoretical consulting for Continental Airlines (3 years ago) using actual market conditions (not a case study). As part of this we look into wireless internet as a possible method to help Continental Airlines' bottom line about 2 years ago, and it then became our final recommendation.

Each plane for Continental made about 3 to 4 trips each day (the 3-4 hour flights). With what we believed to be a conservative estimate of about 10 people per trip, at the time we based it on business travellers using it; today you could expect more people to use it I suspect.

If that carried out, and we averaged 3.5 flights per day, they make back the upfront $100,000 in less then a year; aproximately 9-10 months. After that it just becomes maintance costs and profits.

Honestely when we did the math, the only reason to not implement this was due to FAA concerns about the wireless signals being used.

RE: I love the wireless "risk" in the sky
By AlphaVirus on 1/23/2008 5:44:36 PM , Rating: 2
and it seemed like 1/2 the people on the plane were using it.

Ok, forget about a lab test, lets talk real world.
Firstly, how many people own a how many people own a laptop with a wireless connection.
Next, how many people want to pay the extra fee to use this service.
Then, how many people have anything THAT important to where they have to pay for the service. Maybe if it were free it would be useful.

The main purpose I see for this would be business. I do not see this being used by more than 10% of the average flyer. This is more of a "Look what we offer" scheme.

By Bremen7000 on 1/24/2008 4:58:22 PM , Rating: 2
Business users ARE the average flyer.

RE: I love the wireless "risk" in the sky
By TomZ on 1/23/2008 1:41:59 PM , Rating: 1
What do x-ray room procedures have to do with flying/WiFi? I don't get your point.

I'm sorry, but I personally find it difficult to believe that airplane electronics are designed in such a shoddy way that a cell phone or laptop could emit enough RFI to interfere with them, let alone pose a safety hazard. The engineering standards in that field are very rigorous, and it makes no sense to believe that the entire industry was somehow blindsided by the possibility of RFI.

RE: I love the wireless "risk" in the sky
By theoflow on 1/23/2008 2:21:14 PM , Rating: 2
The analogy the guy made was good, so let me try another for you.

The Food and Drug administration. Some things are approved and something aren't. The reason they need to go through the testing procedure at all is to make sure that there are no side effects in combination with other foods and/or drugs. When you see those pharmaceutical commercials the narrator talks really fast and usually says something about you should not take in combination with X,Y, or Z. By going through FDA approval and knowing adverse effects, the company is then legally isolated from legal action.

The same thing applies to airplanes but on a much larger scale. First off, electronic equipment is rarely ever tested except by UL labs and that is usually just for appliances. With the sheer amount of electronic devices in the entire market in a given year, that involves a infinite testing regiment that i don't can be accomplished in a given time period. As you said, the engineering and tolerances of modern aircraft are quite rigorous so therefore this testing is required.Start mix and matching plane types and how many models of just cell phones there are in the world and you get that idea. Instead of failing at testing everything, they just ban everything.

So why not just let everything slide because the equipment on planes is good enough. The simple and right answer is YOU NEVER KNOW (i.e. error on the side of caution). One person on the plane might be willing to risk their life to use an electronic device, but you are not the only person on the plane. Given the size of the new Airbus, your talking more than 500 people just so someone could use a electronic device.

By TomZ on 1/23/2008 2:31:45 PM , Rating: 2
Instead of failing at testing everything, they just ban everything.

Your analogy falls apart, because even consumer gear is subject to RFI/EMI testing and is regulated in terms of the amount and characteristics that can be legally emitted. Therefore, these levels are known and can be (and probably are already) incorporated into functional requirements for airplane electronics.

Sure, that won't stop someone's "homemade" device they carry on that exceeds the legal limits, but that's not really the specific concern here.

Although on that note, again, airline electronics would have to be sufficiently sheilded from even rogue gear for security purposes. It's not hard to imagine the case where a bad guy brings on board some kind of electronic device specifically designed to emit RFI to intentionally interfere with on-board electronics, for the purpose of taking down a plane. Therefore, RFI/EMI hardening is also a security requirement.

By PWNettle on 1/23/2008 5:11:21 PM , Rating: 2
"The Food and Drug administration"

Bad analogy IMO, because it seems like the FDA stopped being stringent with approvals, especially drug approvals, years ago. It's all about the benjamins now. I kind of expect to see all kinds of fallout from recent drugs showing up in a decade or two.

All those commercials about "using xx might cause kidney failure, impotence, internal bleeding, spontaneous combustion, birth defects, fatigue, anxiety, depression, euphoria, anal fissures, world peace, WW III - consult your doctor to pay even more before killing yourself with this drug."

How exactly does any kind of "safefy first" organization approve any of the multitudes of drugs you see with those kinds of disclaimers?


I think it's been adequately and scientifically proven that all these devices are no threat to modern aircraft.

Even so, I love the internet and use it all day (at work and at play) but is it really so hard to go without it for a few hours for a flight? Damn. I just read a book or take a nap. Disconnecting from the internet addiction for a little while here and there isn't the end of the world.

So who cares?

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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