Broadband internet access system starts three-month trial but revenue potential impresses German flag carrier

Lufthansa Group is now almost certain to commit to equipping its 80-strong long-haul fleet with Connexion By Boeing's broadband internet access system.

Speaking on the carrier's first flight of a three-month trial of Connexion in revenue service last week, deputy chairman Wolfgang Mayrhuber made clear that potential revenues to Lufthansa Technik (LHT) and Lufthansa Systems from other Connexion customers were attractive. He explained how the expertise the two subsidiaries have developed during the airline's implementation programme will make them strong candidates to equip other carriers' aircraft.

Describing LHT as a "co-developer and supplier" with Connexion, Mayrhuber said: "LHT has a lot of knowledge and expertise. It is not a contractual arrangement, but if Connexion does something with Air France or somebody else then [the airline] would buy the antenna from us."

That revenue stream, added to the already advantageous terms offered by Connexion, means the programme carries little risk from Lufthansa's point of view.

The airline operated a Boeing 747-400 with the service running throughout the cabin on flight 418 from Frankfurt to Washington DC on 15 January, marking the first full internet-enabled operation on a commercial airline flight.

Flight International was on board and the service, provided primarily via a wireless local area network (WLAN) to passengers' own laptops or to 50 Fujitsu notebooks freely available, was enthusiastically received. Project general manager Burkard Wigger said: "We are close to closing the contract."

Although Connexion is free during the trial, Lufthansa expects to charge €30-35 ($30-35) per flight for unrestricted access when it enters wider service next year.

Mayrhuber said of the trial: "We are both committed to it. If during the study we find it is too early and the customers don't want it, then we would not do it. But I'm convinced it will happen."

Connexion president Scott Carson added: "The very fact that we are doing the demonstration and sharing the cost means Wolfgang [Mayrhuber] has a very low cost way of escaping - although we don't think that will happen."

Next month British Airways will begin another trial on London-New York services, but in that case the access will be charged for from the beginning.

Source: Flight International