Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways has announced plans to offer in-flight broadband, mobile-phone service and live television on its aircraft from early 2012.
The airline will use the eXConnect system supplied by Panasonic Avionics that can deliver a 50Mbps internet stream via satellite to aircraft. That stream will be split between passenger internet service and crew applications, such as the transmission of real-time flight data back to the airline's base of operations.
The satellite link will also support data and voice mobile-phone calls and carry a handful of live TV stations and some pay-per-view programming.
As a first step towards the service, the two companies have signed a preliminary agreement to introduce the services across the entire Cathay Pacific and Dragonair fleets.
Cathay Pacific is the first Asian airline to announce plans to launch the service but its planes won't be the first in the skies to offer it. Germany's Lufthansa plans to launch in-flight internet access on some of its routes in the next few months as part of a roll-out that will see the majority of its long-haul fleet equipped by the middle of 2011.
Lufthansa was launch customer for Connexion by Boeing, an earlier in-flight internet service that operated from 2001 until 2006.
The service was adopted by carriers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia and initially supported by several US airlines, but the terrorist attacks of September 11 and subsequent turbulence in the US airline industry meant no North American carrier ever launched the service. It was this failure to crack the US market and the tough conditions in the aviation market that eventually led to the closure of the service.
In-flight internet has since come to North American flights based on the Aircell GoGo in-flight internet service.
It relies on ground-based towers so is cheaper to fit on aircraft but coverage doesn't extend far beyond the US. The Panasonic service is technically more sophisticated and uses a network of satellites to maintain a signal even while aircraft are flying over oceans.