Aircell sees burgeoning portfolio as airlines turn to in-flight Internet

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Aircell is working with at least seven carriers to bring its Gogo in-flight connectivity service to passengers in North America, president and CEO Jack Blumenstein revealed today.

To date, Aircell has publicly announced deals with five commercial operators - Air Canada, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines (and its merger partner Northwest Airlines), United Airlines and Virgin America.

The air-to-ground (ATG)-based service was launched last year on American's transcontinental Boeing 767s. This was quickly followed by deployments at Virgin America and Delta, which have each opted for fleet-wide equipage.

"We're doing installations [on Delta aircraft in Atlanta] in an overnight and sending it out the next morningwe're just banging them out like boxes of popcorn. We're in the process of expanding the number of lines," Blumenstein said in an interview with ATI.

"We've got a whole raft of new FAA certifications coming out so that we can expand the fleet activities to move through the year and meet customer needs. We have a couple of announcements heading your way."

By year-end, he says: "I don't think there is going to be an airline in the USA that hasn't firmly announced its plan and timeline [for installing in-flight broadband systems]. And of course, the seven or so we're working with will all be in implementation and fully [being] deployed."

Asked if Aircell has two more airline deals in the works, Blumenstein answered in the affirmative.

Some US carriers are turning towards satellite-based connectivity to bring Internet to passengers. Southwest Airlines recently began a trial of Row 44's Ku-band system. Alaska Airlines is poised to also begin trials of Row 44.

Since ATG services cannot be offered on overseas flights, Aircell is working on a hybrid solution for its customers. "Increasingly, US domestic carriers want an integrated solution where they provide the benefits of the economics of Gogo in the USA but have a solution offshore," says Blumenstein.

He reveals the company is "working pretty closely with one of the major satellite players", although nothing has been formally announced yet.

"We're looking at a Ku-band over-ocean solution with a hybrid approach that lets those planes that are in and out of the USA with some frequency to have some flexibility and the interesting thing is you can do a combined system at very little incremental weight and cost. You really can get the best of both worlds."