Alaska readies for more Row 44 Internet testing

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Alaska Airlines will resume testing Row 44's high-speed Internet service on one non-revenue aircraft next month.

Seattle-based Alaska pulled one Boeing 737 from commercial service before the holidays for roughly a month of testing last year, company EVP of finance and CFO Glenn Johnson said during an investors call today. The airline stopped the effort to return the aircraft to service during the busy holiday season, but Alaska plans to outfit a different aircraft for Internet connectivity in the first half of February, he says.

While the company has not decided how long testing on one aircraft will occur, once it is complete, Alaska will trial Row 44 during revenue service, an airline spokeswoman says.

The goal is to start customer trials as soon as possible, she adds.

Fleet-wide installation is expected to follow, but passenger trials have been delayed.

Row 44 had hoped to begin commercial trials with Alaska--its launch customer--last fall. But the company ran into opposition from competitors, which dispute certain parts of its application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for permanent authority to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment.

Alaska was not the only carrier affected as plans to operate commercial trials with Southwest Airlines by the end of 2008 were also nixed.

However, Dallas-based Southwest has begun internal testing and plans to offer passengers free in-flight Internet for a couple of months starting in mid-February on a single 737.