Virgin Atlantic eyes in-flight Internet

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Virgin Atlantic is keen to bring in-flight Internet to passengers, Aircell president and CEO Jack Blumenstein reveals.

The carrier in 2002 started offering widebody passengers Arinc's short messaging service over installed in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems. The service was developed in association with Tenzing, which later became part of the OnAir joint venture.

However, on a recent flight to celebrate US low-cost carrier Virgin America's new service from Boston, Virgin Atlantic president Sir Richard Branson had an opportunity to test Aircell's Gogo in-flight broadband system.

"Being on that plane with him was such a kick. I think, by the time we ended up the flight, he [was ready to become] another international satellite customer. He says he is absolutely going to get something going on Virgin Atlantic," says Aircell CEO Jack Blumenstein.

Asked if he believes Virgin Atlantic will talk to Aircell, Blumenstein says: "I think definitely."

Aircell currently provides in-flight Internet to North American operators over an air-to-ground (ATG) link. However, the company is working closely with a major player in the Ku-band satellite sector on an overseas solution.

Technical trials with airlines could occur "in the next year or so", likely by the end of 2010, says Blumenstein.

He adds: "We still have a lot of questions. Obviously the fact that Row 44 is up and flying is an indication of progress particularly on the antenna front."

Row 44's Ku-band-based connectivity system is being trialled by Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines.