Airbus has taken a 30% share of in-flight e-mail and internet service provider Tenzing Communications and named the Seattle-based company as its preferred e-mail/internet supplier in response to perceived demand for the services.

Unlike Boeing's Connexion services, Airbus is focusing on narrowband solutions, electing not to field a live television product in the belief that e-mail is the "killer application" and a "strategic imperative". The Tenzing product becomes the passenger services element of Airbus in-flight information services, a product designed to link aircraft real-time operations to the ground.


The deal, first revealed by Flight International (1-7 May, 2000), provides a much-needed financial boost to Tenzing, which has yet to accrue revenue, with charging due to start at the end of the third quarter. The equity purchase, for an undisclosed amount, values the company at about $148 million and gives Airbus three board seats and the option to increase its stake "under certain circumstances", says John Leahy, Airbus executive vice-president customer affairs. The manufacturer looked at developing its own services, but opted for a partnership with Tenzing as the product is already in operation, easily installed, low-risk and available worldwide.

Tenzing services have already been selected by Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic for fleetwide fits, and the product is being trialled with Air Canada and Scandinavian Airlines. Ironically, most of Tenzing's commitments to date are on Boeing aircraft. The company says it expected to announce a further three airline fleet contracts at the Paris air show. By year-end around 30 aircraft are due to be equipped, rising to 300 a year later.

Passengers access the services by plugging their laptops into the in-flight phone system. It costs from $4.95 per day to check e-mails, with a charge of around 50c per page to send them. Internet access to up to a million web pages stored on the aircraft is free.

Although its initial focus is on narrowband service, via Inmarsat satellites, Tenzing will be ready for broadband as soon as the space infrastructure is available, the frequencies are approved and broadband can deliver value for money, says Airbus.

Source: Flight International