Lufthansa says it will begin charging for its FlyNet-branded in-flight high-speed Internet on 1 February, when the carrier's promotion of free sessions is slated to end.

Questions about whether the Star Alliance member can charge passengers for FlyNet arose last week when in-flight connectivity provider Row 44, a rival to Lufthansa's partner Panasonic Avionics, announced that it is "the only company in the world whose airline customers can charge for in-flight broadband on, say, a transatlantic flight from Paris to New York".

Panasonic, which holds a provisional license with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), responded to Row 44's claim by saying: "Panasonic has consulted with the FCC staff to confirm that initial revenue service, in which we will study traffic volumes, network loading and related data at chosen price points, is permitted under our existing authority during the pendency of [the firm's] commercial license application."

Lufthansa formally re-launched FlyNet on 1 December. Since that time, the carrier has been offering FlyNet on a complimentary basis to give its customers the opportunity to become familiar with the service free-of-charge.

Starting 1 February, the price for 1h's online access of FlyNet will be €10.95 ($14.61) or 3,500 miles, while the 24h flat rate is €19.95 or 7,000 miles. Various billing options will be available on FlyNet's T-Mobile portal, including payment via credit card, via integrated roaming partners or by redeeming "Miles & More" award miles.

The carrier says it continues to further equip its long-haul fleet with FlyNet "in order to be able to offer a high availability after the initial introduction period".

FlyNet is currently installed on 12 aircraft, and four additional FlyNet-equipped aircraft will enter revenue service in the next few weeks. These aircraft are already fitted with MELCO antennas, which supported FlyNet until the late 2006 demise of Lufthansa's then in-flight connectivity partner, Connexion by Boeing.

Long-haul aircraft not fitted with useable MELCO antennas will be quipped with a new antenna from EMS as part of Panasonic's so-called eXConnect system. "The first EMS antenna should be installed in second or third quarter, depending on which aircraft is targeted," says a Panasonic spokesman.

Other customers of Panasonic's in-flight Internet system, which operates over Ku-band satellites, are gearing up to launch service this year. The first Turkish Airlines aircraft to be fitted with eXConnect, a Boeing 777-300, is scheduled to roll off the production line this summer with systems already installed, following a decision by the airframer to make eXConnect linefit offerable on certain aircraft types.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news