Venture provides connected aircraft applications for cockpit, cabin crew and passengers

Airbus, ARINC, Astrium and Tenzing Communications have formed a consortium to develop broadband connectivity services for airlines. The unnamed venture expects to secure a launch customer for the services, to compete directly with Boeing's Connexion, before the end of this year.

The alliance brings together ARINC's aeronautical communications expertise, the satellite manufacturing and space system development experience of Astrium and in-flight e-mail/internet service provider Tenzing, which is 30% owned by Airbus.

The partners plan to establish a separate company for the new venture, which will be owned jointly by the four companies, says Edward Nicol, recently-appointed chief executive officer of Tenzing.

The connectivity solutions will form a key part of the Airbus Flight Information System (AFIS), which is being designed to link an aircraft's real-time operations to the ground. The venture will initially focus on internet and live television services for the passenger cabin, but it is designed to lead to the "connected aircraft", providing applications for the cockpit and cabin crew in addition to the passenger cabin, says David Coiley, ARINC director of business development passenger services.

The broadband services will be tested on an Airbus A340 before the end of this year, leading to commercial availability from late next year, says Simon Glenister, ARINC's marketing director.

The venture will exploit all communication technologies, including satellites, wireless/gatelink communications and ARINC's existing airline communication channels such as VHF data-link.

Meanwhile, Tenzing has added Swissair as the latest customer for its narrowband in-flight e-mail/internet services. The Swiss carrier has selected Tenzing services for its seven Airbus A340-600s, which will be delivered from next July through to 2004. The services will be integrated with the Matsushita System 3000 in-flight entertainment system.

Swissair becomes Tenzing's tenth airline customer, joining Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Singapore Airlines (SIA), Varig, Virgin Atlantic, and three undisclosed carriers. In addition, Scandinavian Airlines is trialling the services.

From the end of this month, Cathay Pacific will offer Tenzing services on the first two Airbus A330-300s in a programme that will see its 65 aircraft fleet equipped by 2003. SIA is currently operating one aircraft offering Tenzing services, with a fleet deployment due to start next month, while Air Canada, which has conducted a five-aircraft Tenzing trial, is finalising its fleet installation plans.

Tenzing is entering a "critical time", concedes Nicol, with a number of carriers due to start charging passengers for the services following free trials. The North America pricing plan is $4.95 to see e-mails and 10 cents per kbit to send them and $9.95 and 60 cents per kbit elsewhere. Other pricing plans, including monthly subscriptions, will be introduced next year.

Tenzing is also "actively studying" the business aviation market for a possible expansion into that sector next year, he says.

Source: Flight International