Boeing has secured an Asian launch customer for its Connexion broadband communication services, with Japan Airlines signing a letter of intent to install the service on 10 long-haul aircraft, plus additional options.

Boeing expects to finalise the agreement by late this year, with the manufacturer not discounting the possibility of the Japanese carrier becoming an investor in Connexion. Boeing Connexion lost its three US airline investors - American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines - last year after the post-11 September downturn.

Aircraft types for the JAL installations have yet to be decided, but the first is likely to be in service in the first quarter of 2004 on routes between Japan and Europe, says Scott Carson, Connexion president. JAL will offer service throughout the aircraft in wired and wireless modes.

Passengers will be charged in the region of $30 per flight sector - the same price that Connexion trial customer British Airways plans to charge its premium-class passengers during its one-aircraft trial next year.

Meanwhile, Boeing has received spectrum authorisation from the German telecommunications authority for a one-aircraft Boeing 747-400 trial with launch customer Lufthansa. The three-month trial will start on 15 January next year, with the aircraft operating on the Frankfurt-Washington route.

Services will be available throughout the aircraft, free of charge, via wireless local area network or Ethernet connection. Services across the Atlantic will be provided by the Brazilian Estrela do Sol satellite, which is due to be launched by a Boeing Delta IV later this year.

Lufthansa intends to equip its long-haul fleet of up to 80 aircraft, including Airbus types, from late 2003, says Burkhard Wigger, Lufthansa's general manager of onboard internet.

Lufthansa is also interested in using the broadband link for other services, including aircraft health monitoring data, says Carson.

Boeing, meanwhile, remains "convinced" that the three US carriers will return to Connexion as customers, says Carson. American, Delta and United are part of the group of 15 airlines that have been helping Boeing define the Connexion services.

The broadband service is flying on Boeing's Connexion One Boeing 737 demonstrator, in addition to 15 business aircraft.

Source: Flight International