Joe Brancatelli pokes beneath the surface of claims that in-flight Internet is imminent: I've covered some of the same ground, but veteran travel writer Brancatelli connected the dots by checking with the FAA to find the status of applications for aircraft certification by Aircell and others.
He's not very positive about it, because his research shows a mismatch between claims and work. He writes that an unnamed American airline executive is frustrated by the delay in launching the 3-to-6 month pilot on their trans-continental fleet; that Aircell hasn't submitted paperwork for Virgin's Airbus models for certification; and that the FAA just received a request to certify Delta's MD-80 craft, which makes a launch with 75 planes this year on that airline less likely.
Competitor Row 44 doesn't fare better in his analysis, as they promised spring and summer 2008 tests that still haven't happened, with Southwest and Alaska Airlines.
I'm a little more positive about the future of in-flight broadband. There's no particular conspiracy. It's hard to make it work. Development and testing is tricky due to FAA limits, and getting in-flight handoffs to work for seamless service at 35,000 feet is far more difficult than, say, cellular handoffs in a moving car at 100 feet above sea level. My suspicion is that tuning the service to be entirely reliable at launch is what's taking so long.
Brancatelli blames the high price of Connexion on its failure, but I don't think the $27 fee for long-haul flights deterred users. Lufthansa, which deployed all its long-haul fleet, apparently had very good usage. Most other airlines had few craft equipped, which didn't allow business travelers, able to expense several hours of work for a $27 fee, the reliability of having on-board Internet when they needed it. Connexion also had many reports of spotty service in certain areas.
Connexion's failure came from deploying technology that was old when it was deployed, which weighed too much, and which was too expensive to install. Connexion's revenue and expenses were forecast based on having several hundred aircraft with Connexion service--recall that it was supposed to be a domestic U.S. service, too. In the end they had about 100, I believe.
Brancatelli is also modest when he says Boeing "lost" $300m. That's part of what they wrote down. My sources say they spent more than a billion in R&D, transponder leases, ground station operation, airline incentives, and payoffs at the end.