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Alaska wants fleetwide Wi-Fi in 2010

Alaska Airlines is aiming for fleet-wide Internet connectivity by year-end 2010 after debuting Wi-Fi access on a single Boeing 737-700 aircraft this year.

Seattle-based Alaska will select an Internet solution this year and plans to equip its all-737 fleet by the end of next year, Alaska manager of product development and market research Chase Craig tells ATI.

The carrier has been testing Row 44's broadband solution on revenue flights since February and is mulling Wi-Fi pricing.

"Customers are very satisfied with the service," Craig says, adding they have demonstrated a willingness to pay for connectivity.

The equipped aircraft has mostly operated on short-haul flights up and down the west coast, Craig explains, but the carrier has also tested Wi-Fi on flights to Alaska, Canada and Mexico.

Virtually the only part of Alaska's route network that the Wi-Fi equipped aircraft has not operated is on transcontinental fights to the east coast, Craig says, adding Alaska has collected a lot of wi-fi data for flights shorter than 2.5 hours.

Once Alaska chooses an Internet provider, the carrier will prioritise outfitting its 51 737-800s because that aircraft type operates throughout Alaska's network, including on transcontinental flights, Craig says.

In hindsight the carrier probably should have outfitted a -800 instead of a -700 for the wi-fi trial because a -800 would have provided a healthy baseline for uptake rates on both long-haul and short-haul flights, he says.

But the airline opted to test Wi-Fi on a -700 first because that aircraft's shorter airframe made certification more challenging due to the positioning of the radome, Craig explains. Alaska wanted to address any significant certification hurdles earlier rather than later, he adds.

The airline is presently working with Row 44 on certification design for the -800.

However, the airline appears to have decided against expanding its Wi-Fi trial to include a -800, a possibility mentioned during Alaska's 2009 second quarter earnings call.

Alaska plans to continue testing just one aircraft, Craig says, adding the trial does not have a specific end date.

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