Virgin Atlantic mulls in-flight connectivity for 2011 deliveries

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Virgin Atlantic is considering offering in-flight connectivity on new-delivery aircraft from 2011.

The carrier recently launched an online poll to gauge passenger interest in connectivity, asking if they would prefer web browsing capabilities built into the seat-back in-flight entertainment (IFE) system, unfettered access to the Internet, and/or a GSM/GPRS solution.

The carrier received a mixed bag of responses.

Company head of product and service Chris Birch says the first opportunity that Virgin Atlantic will have "to do anything about this" is 2011, when new aircraft are delivered.

According to Flightglobal's ACAS database, Virgin Atlantic has standing orders for six Airbus A380s, six A340s, four A330s and 15 Boeing 787s. Virgin Atlantic in 2002 started offering widebody passengers Arinc's short messaging service over installed IFE systems. The service was developed in association with Tenzing, which later became part of the OnAir joint venture.

In March of this year Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson had the opportunity to test Aircell's Gogo in-flight broadband system on board a Virgin America flight in the USA.

"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," said Aircell's then CEO Jack Blumenstein at the time.

Although Aircell currently provides in-flight Internet to North American operators over an air-to-ground (ATG) link, the company is looking to offer a Ku-band solution for overseas service.