American to test in-flight Internet service

Aug. 7, 2007

span class='leadp'American Airlines said Wednesday it will be the first U.S. carrier to try out AirCell LLC's in-flight high-speed Internet service. /span/ Passengers on U.S. routes will be able to test the service next year on 15 Boeing 767-200 aircraft, said Charley Wilson, a spokesman for American parent AMR Corp. / The Fort Worth-based airline wouldn't disclose financial terms and didn't say how much it will charge travelers for the service.

/ Unlike overseas rivals, U.S. carriers have rejected the option of Internet service, which became available just before the 2001 terrorist attacks and proved too expensive after travel demand collapsed. Last year, Boeing Co. ended its Connexion satellite Web service after failing to find enough customers. / American is testing an option that's "much lighter than satellite and cheaper by far both to the airline and the people sitting in the seats," said Fran Phillips, senior vice president of airline solutions at Itasca, Ill.-based AirCell. "This brings back the business traveler and is economical for the airline." / The antenna and cabling equipment needed for Air Cell's system cost about $100,000 a plane and can be installed overnight, and the service can be offered to passengers for about $10 a flight, Phillips said. The satellite system cost as much as $1 million a plane and took a week to install, she said. / Connexion's service, which was used by carriers like Deutsche Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, cost $26.95 to $29.95 a flight. / American's trial period will begin in the second half of next year, Wilson said. The airline plans to extend the AirCell Internet access to the rest of its fleet if the test is successful. / The service from closely held AirCell is only available in the U.S. because it works somewhat like cellular-phone service, with signals sent from towers on the ground up into the air instead of horizontally. / "There's a real clear solution domestically, but providing something globally, over water, is a lot muddier," Phillips said. / AirCell is in talks with all the major airlines in the U.S. and may outfit as many as 2,000 aircraft within 18 months, Phillips said. Connexion was installed on only 146 planes when Boeing dropped the service at the end of 2006. /