Etihad says will keep connected

Airline looks for new supplier as Boeing scraps service

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By  Published  September 1, 2006

Etihad is pushing ahead with plans to roll out in-flight internet access across its fleet by the end of this year, despite the decision by supplier Boeing to end its Connexion service, it claimed last month.

Since March this year, the Abu-Dhabi based airline has deployed the high speed Connexion by Boeing service in a third of its aircraft and had planned to make it available in all its aircraft by December.

It has also planned to introduce internet access from screens on passengers’ seatbacks by 2007 — a scheme it believed would be a big hit with customers.

However, last month’s announcement by Boeing to end the service by December this year means Etihad must now find an alternative supplier — or scrap the scheme.

Ian Ferguson-Brown head of brand management and communications at Etihad told IT Weekly that the airline believes providing such services is likely to be a success long-term, especially when it provides the seatback service. It is hoping to do this by next year, he claimed.

“We are working with Boeing to ensure that the service remains in place as long as possible and we expect that other manufacturers will come in and take their place,” he said.

Regarding the effect Boeing’s decision will have on the roll out of the service to the rest of the fleet, Ferguson-Brown, admitted that “obviously it’s going to be affected but we haven’t taken that decision yet”.

“We are currently reviewing with Boeing what our revised timings should be,” he said.

“We need to ensure that whatever is installed would be compatible with any additional company's installations,” he added.

Ferguson-Brown said it was too soon to say whether the plan to introduce seat back internet access would be delayed, claiming this would depend on what service provider was brought in to take Boeing’s place, but stated that Etihad fully intends to follow through with its plan.

“It seems to us that having internet access is going to be a natural function — there is clearly very high demand for it.”

Boeing’s experience would appear to suggest otherwise, with a spokesman telling IT Weekly last week that Connexion’s take-up had been so low that it no longer made the business viable.

Take-up reached on average low single digit figures in terms of a percentage of people who had the service available to them on any given flight, John Dern, vice president of public relations at Boeing said.

“We weren’t seeing the usage of the service that was required to make Connexion a long-term viable business,” he admitted. “It varied from airline to airline but looking at it across the universe of all the customers, we just weren’t seeing a lot of people using it,” he added.

Scrapping the Connexion service will cost Boeing around US$320million, Dern said.

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