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Broadband service ready to board more corporate jets

Posted by iTech - 2005-11-21

Executives who travel on corporate jets may soon be finding in-flight high-speed Internet a common feature.
Only Annapolis, Md.-based Arinc is on the market now with a broadband service for corporate jets. But competition is set to intensify in 2006.

• Radio equipment maker Rockwell Collins and aviation giant Boeing have teamed to introduce theirs next spring.

• Inmarsat, a British avionics maker that now has a dial-up-speed Internet service for corporate jets, will roll out a broadband product later in the year.

Special plane antennas link to satellites to provide the Internet access. Driving the new interest providing the service in the corporate jet market:

• Productivity. High-level executives can ill afford to be away from the Internet, particularly e-mail, for long flights. "It's become an extension of office," says corporate pilot Mike Moore, who flies a Gulfstream G4 for a West Coast technology firm.

• Cost. The service remains costly, but it's coming down. Howard Lewis of Satcom Direct, a reseller of in-flight Internet and phone services, estimates hardware and installation of the current Inmarsat service can cost up to $400,000. A connection runs about $8 a minute. Initially, broadband equipment is unlikely to be cheaper, though per-minute rates will be less, says Lewis.

• Technology. The new generation of services will be much improved, says Steve Pope, an editor at Aviation International News. Initially, only the owners of large jets - such as Gulfstream G450, Bombardier Global 5000 and Dassault Falcon - will buy, he says. The tail-mounted antennas are too big from smaller jets.

• Airlines. The market is flat for commercial jets, diverting suppliers' interest to business jets. Connexion by Boeing, the aerospace giant's wireless unit, has managed to attract some foreign airlines like Lufthansa and Singapore to the broadband service it rolled out in 2004. About 100 foreign commercial airplanes have been outfitted.

So far, financially struggling U.S. carriers have not offered in-flight broadband, though United has plans to offer it by the end of 2006.

Including Inmarsat's dial-up-speed service, an estimated 600 corporate jets now have Internet service.

Arinc executive Bob Thompson estimates about 1,500 corporate jets - about 17% of corporate jets worldwide - have tail sections large enough for the current technology. As the size of antennas shrink with technological improvements, he says, the market for broadband will expand.

"After a year or two, the number of business jets (with broadband Internet) will far outstrip the number of commercial airlines," says Thompson.

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