Delta Airlines said today they'll put in-flight broadband on their entire fleet of 330 planes by 2009. The airline will use Aircell's Gogo Internet service, which hasn't yet launched in a production run on any craft.
American Airlines ran a public test flight a few weeks ago, and will launch service on its 15 trans-continental Boeing 767-200 craft. But that's still a test. Virgin America will launch Gogo later this year on its fleet, which numbers just 22 planes so far.
The Delta service will launch starting this year on 133 MD88/90 aircraft, and then in 2009 expand to their 200 Boeing planes (737, 757, and 767-300s). The FAA airworthiness certification is model based, so each new model requires a separate process. I believe, however, that once Aircell has worked with a given airline on a particular model (like a 767-200 or 737), that approval for other carriers' identical model craft is streamlined or rubberstamped.
I had wondered if there would be an "air grab" for in-flight Internet, because Aircell's air-to-ground system seemed an affordable option for domestic carriers, and would be a selling point with the increasingly onerous costs of flight. A business traveler who can spend five hours online while crosscountry for $13 ($10 for 3 hours or fewer) might be able to salvage a working day.
Alaska Airlines will shortly launch its test with Row 44, a satellite-based firm that plans to compete domestically. Row 44 talks down Aircell, because Aircell's service will work only over land. Row 44 has the advantage for Alaska, which flies quite a number of over-water routes to Alaska and Mexico, of having continuous service in less-traveled routes.
Delta wants bragging rights because this is a full fleet deployment, not a pilot project, and thus pushed out a press release that says they're the first U.S. airline to deploy broadband. They're sort of correct.
Back in the heydey of Connexion by Boing, at most only a couple hundred plans worldwide had its satellite-based service installed, with over one-third being Lufthansa aircraft.