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Inflight Internet takes off

Boeing
One Lufthansa jet will offer the Internet service from January 15.

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BERLIN, Germany (CNN) -- Europe's third largest airline Lufthansa will become the first airline to offer inflight Internet connection.

The German airline will begin testing the service on one jet from January 15, Lufthansa said.

The Boeing 747-400 operates solely between Frankfurt and Washington. Passengers will be able to use a broadband Internet connection -- the first from a plane in flight.

The service will be offered free for the first three months. Free access to news and weather information provided through a Lufthansa portal will continue, but to log on to a private server will cost "roughly" between 30 and 35 euro ($31-$37) per flight, Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty told CNN.

The plane has been modified with antennae that "must always be aligned to the satellite at an altitude of 36,000 kilometres above the Equator," the airline said.

Antennae are linked to the aircraft's on-board navigation system to ensure they are aligned.

Each seat in first class will have a connection, while there will be one connection between every two seats in business class and economy class.

Lufthansa successfully sent the first e-mail from a flying plane last October, when an employee on the plane received an e-mail from a colleague on the ground, then forwarded it with a photo attachment to other colleagues.

Lufthansa has installed onboard a computer network equivalent to that of a medium-sized company to cope with 390-seat capacity.

A survey conducted by Lufthansa in 2001 revealed widespread customer interest in inflight Internet access.

More than 50 per cent of those asked said they would welcome the offer and that -- particularly among business travellers -- they were willing to pay for this service.

However, most respondents wanted to use their own computers.

An "internationally standard interface between the aircraft system and the various end devices used by passengers has to be created. Passengers will be able to use this service from 2004," Lufthansa said.

Currently wireless devices cannot be used on planes, but Lufthansa was negotiating with authorities to allow passengers to use the devises, Lamberty said.

Europe's largest airline British Airways will begin a similar trial in February, charging 20 ($32) on a flight between London and New York, spokeswoman Amanda Allan told CNN.

The connection will be available in first and business class seats for a three-month trial.



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