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Lufthansa to give wing to broadband

The German airline signs a service agreement with a Boeing subsidiary to have high-speed Internet service installed in 80 of its long-haul planes beginning in early 2004.

Broadband access will be the latest in-flight service for travelers on Lufthansa, coming after an agreement struck by the German airline and a Boeing subsidiary devoted to mobile communications.

Lufthansa and Connexion by Boeing announced Monday that after the recent completion of trials for broadband access on Lufthansa flights, the airline will make the service available starting in 2004 on its fleet of about 80 long-haul aircraft, including Boeing 747-400 and Airbus A330 and A340 planes. Financial terms of the service agreement were not disclosed.

The broadband service will let passengers access the Internet and e-mail, and connect to corporate networks on their own computers, either wirelessly, using 802.11b networks, or via Ethernet connections built into the seats. Connexion by Boeing also finished a trial with British Airways, while Japan Airlines and Scandinavian Airlines System have announced their intent to install the service on their long-range planes.

Lufthansa and Connexion are still working out the fees to be charged for the service, but according to data from the trial earlier this year, passengers were willing to pay up to $35 for the service on a 7 hour to 8 hour flight, according to Sean Griffin, a spokesman for Connexion.

"One of the things we discovered is that the value of the service depends on the length of the flight," Griffin said. Lufthansa is also looking into allowing frequent customers to use their air miles to pay for service.

Lufthansa spokesman Tom Tripp said that a portal with information, such as updated news headlines, would be available for free.

Connexion's Griffin said U.S. carriers have been reluctant to sign up for any additional services as many are simply fighting for their survival.

"Our initial plan was to roll out to U.S. carriers first and then go international, but after Sept. 11 that wasn't going to work. They're all in a recovery mode," Griffin said.

Although Griffin wouldn't say how much it cost to install the service, he said it was a modest fee.

Long-haul planes average two flights a day and can run up to 7 days a week, according to Lufthansa's Tripp. Preliminary results from the trial indicated that between 50 and 80 passengers used the service. A plane can seat up to 250 passengers. Tripp said that $35 was "in the ballpark" of the fee that the airline was considering. Multiplying $35 by 80 passengers, and the number of flights a plane takes per day by 365 days, comes to roughly $2 million in revenue that a plane can bring from the service.