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Air Canada to Offer Net Access at 30000 Feet Plus

By J. Renu


Air Canada becomes the first airline in North America to expand and offer on-board Email and Internet Services to its passengers on all its aircrafts starting in the fall of 2001.

Air Canada's in-flight email and Internet services allow customers to send and receive emails and to browse a selection of business and general lifestyle focused web content, uploaded from the Internet several times an hour, via their own laptop computer. Travellers access the service through Bell Mobility's existing on-board communications system available in all classes of service.

“We're making the aircraft an extension of their office environment,” Air Canada spokesperson Laura Cooke said. “The service is targeted at business customers, who want to be able to keep in touch while they are travelling and make good use of their time.”

One year ago, Air Canada and Tenzing signed their first memorandum of understanding to test the system. In November 2000, Air Canada became the first carrier in the world to offer the system to its customers on a free trial basis.

More than 8,000 people registered for the free trial, which was set up on five of the airline's Boeing 767s. Air Canada surveyed about 500 of them to get their opinions on content and pricing.

“We are very pleased with the customer feedback from our trial. Our passengers were very enthusiastic about the service and told us that they considered onboard email and Internet a key element in determining their choice of airline,” said Calin Rovinescu, Executive Vice President, Corporate Development and Strategy.

“If you're a business traveller, having the ability to keep in touch while you're in the air does have value,” said Mark Quigley, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Canada.

“Those kinds of services might very well cause someone to choose an airline (which) offers them over one that doesn't."

That's true especially on long overseas flights, he said.

Air Canada has signed a letter of intent with Seattle-based Tenzing Communications Inc., a global communications provider, to install the system, which will be compatible with PCs, Macs and some personal digital assistants or hand-held computers.

“We congratulate Air Canada for becoming the first North American carrier to deploy email and web services over the next few years,” said Alan Pellegrini, President and Chief Operating Officer at Tenzing Communications Inc. “Tenzing provides both airlines and their passengers with the most economic and comprehensive in-flight connectivity service and we are pleased to help Air Canada's customers make their flight more productive with access to email and web content.”

Tenzing has made similar announcements with a number of airlines around the world including Virgin Atlantic Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Varig of Brazil.

Virgin Atlantic's service, to begin this year, will be provided on a pay-as-you-go basis. The company said it would cost “a couple of dollars” for each e-mail message.

Air Canada hasn't yet set its pricing plan, but expect something similar. Cooke said Air Canada's e-mail will be “competitively priced” and browsing Web content will be free.

For now, though, the test system in five jets is still up and running and it's free. 

Passengers can access the system by registering for the service on the Air Canada website at www.aircanada.ca/tenzing. The end of 2003 will complete the deployment of the system.