Lufthansa expects full long-haul broadband fit in two years

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Lufthansa expects its long-haul fleet to be fully equipped with its FlyNet broadband service within two years, following the carrier's confirmation of Panasonic Avionics as its partner.

The Star Alliance carrier today confirmed it would revive its on-board broadband connectivity offering, almost three years after Lufthansa's previous on-board service - Connexion by Boeing, fitted on 69 aircraft - was switched off.

"We will offer [FlyNet] on board to passengers next year," Lufthansa chief executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber said at an event in Frankfurt today. Lufthansa will carry out some flight tests of the service before the year-end and aims formally to relaunch the service around the middle of 2010 on 50-60 aircraft. Lufthansa's full long-haul fleet, up to 100 aircraft, should be offering the service by the end of 2011.

While he does not rule out the service eventually being deployed on other carriers within Lufthansa Group, Mayrhuber says: "We are focusing on Lufthansa for the time being, there is no concrete plan [beyond]."

As with Connexion, Lufthansa will deploy the service on its long-haul aircraft. It believes its usefulness on short-haul flights is negated by the relatively short flight sector times. "The priority is in the long-haul sector," says Mayrhuber. "We will look at [short-haul] but we have lots of time to make a decision."

Lufthansa will make the service available throughout the aircraft and also sees potential beyond passenger connectivity, such as telemedicine, through broadband.

Its decision ends one of the most eagerly-awaited selections in the in-flight entertainment connectivity arena, Lufthansa having made clear its determination to find a broadband successor from the moment Connexion ended its service.

Broadband capability was key to this selection, says Mayrhuber: "If you fly on Lufthansa it is the same feeling as at home. We decided, if we were going to do it, it was fully-fledged or not. Broadband is the name of the game."

The carrier has not yet announced its charging structure for the services. "We have not defined that yet, but it will be in the magnitude of what [customers] are used to paying," says Mayrhuber.

Alongside broadband Internet, the Panasonic eXconnect solution - for which Lufthansa is launch customer - also includes mobile telephony services courtesy of Panasonic's partnership with AeroMobile.

This will enable passengers to use their mobile devices to send text and e-mail messages. "Technology has developed and people have things they didn't six years ago," says Mayrhuber, referring to progress in mobile devices.

But he rules out any move to introduce voice calls, saying that a quiet environment is one of the priorities of its passengers. Mayrhuber also says the possibility of adding live television is "not in the foreground" for the airline.