United mulls overseas connectivity options as partner readies plan

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Star Alliance member United Airlines is studying in-flight connectivity options for its overseas flights.

While the US major declines to discuss specifics, a United spokeswoman confirms: "We're studying that."

Fellow Star member Lufthansa, a previous customer to now-commercially-defunct Connexion by Boeing (CBB), recently announced plans to reignite Ku-band-based broadband connectivity on overseas flights.

Speaking at the recent World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) single focus connectivity workshop in Everett, Washington, Lufthansa head of cabin interior and IFE Peter Lewalter revealed the German operator in August will make an announcement concerning its specific plans for reintroducing broadband connectivity using the CBB antennas still installed on several dozen aircraft. He also said a connectivity solution for Lufthansa's narrowbodies is expected "sometime early next year".

United, meanwhile, intends to shortly trial Aircell's air-to-ground (ATG)-based connectivity solution Gogo on 13 Boeing 757s flying transcontinental routes from New York Kennedy to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Nine years ago, United teamed with American, Delta and Boeing to market the airframer's CBB airborne internet service under a joint business venture. Each airline signed a letter of intent to take an undisclosed equity stake in the Connexion programme as well as to equip 1,500 aircraft with the service.

But in the wake of the slowdown after 9/11 all three carriers withdrew from the project, and although Connexion was deployed by several international carriers it ultimately failed.

Since then Aircell has been working diligently to bring its less-costly air-to-ground offering to market. So far, the company has captured the lion's share of business in the USA. In addition to United, Aircell's customer list includes Air Canada, AirTran Airways, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

Aircell's solution cannot support connectivity on overseas flights, however.

United will "get feedback from customers" before deciding whether to expand its equipage of Gogo on other aircraft, says the United spokeswoman.