Airline to offer Internet access

Updated: 2011-11-11 08:00

By Xin Dingding and Tan Zongyang (China Daily)

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BEIJING - With Air China's announcement that it will begin offering a wireless network on flights this month, domestic airline passengers have moved a step closer to being able to surf the Internet.

The first plane to have one of the networks will be a Boeing 737-800 plane and will fly from Beijing to Chengdu on Tuesday, said Fan Heyun, a senior manager with Air China's marketing department.

For a while at least, passengers will not be able to use the system to access the Internet. It will instead allow them to play games, watch entertainment programs and shop online using laptop computers or other devices.

"This is the first step," said Zhou Enyong, Air China spokesman. "Our final goal is to provide Internet access on board."

If everything goes as planned, a wireless network will be established later this month on a second plane, an Airbus 321 jet flying between Beijing and Shanghai, Fan said.

"Gradually, the network will be available on Air China's major domestic flights," he said. "The network service will first be available on single-aisle planes and then on wider jets."

To ensure the success of the first commercial flights that have the network, the plane will go through an hour-long trial flight on Friday, Fan added. No passengers will be on board during that exercise, which will test the plane's network server and other equipment.

Air China has not mentioned a plan to charge for the service.

Fan said the company's goal is to eventually provide Internet access to passengers. But before doing that, it wants to experiment more and obtain further cost estimates.

In April, Air China agreed to work with China Telecom, the largest telecommunications operator in the country, in the pursuit of projects that will enable passengers to surf the Internet and use cell phones. It did not set a specific schedule, though, for that work's completion.

After the airline released its plan through a micro blog, netizens responded with a variety of opinions.

Some said they have misgivings about the network, largely because it will not allow passengers to surf the Internet.

"The network is of little value to me if I still can't check e-mails or chat online," said Li Muojia, who works at a Shenzhen consulting company, which he declined to identify, and flies at least twice a week.

"I would pay more for wireless Internet."

But others believed the service will give them more opportunities to have fun on domestic flights.

"On smaller planes, you have to share a screen with other passengers, watching with your head bent back," said Xu Da, a 28-year-old Shanghai resident who works at a local bank."And you have no choice among entertainment programs.

"If the Internet is available, I could use my own electronic device to choose a program, which gives me more options."

Deutsche Lufthansa AG was the first airline in the world to give passengers broadband access to the Internet. It started that practice in 2005.

Previous reports have said that Lufthansa has been offering WiFi to passengers on certain domestic routes for a few years, and that the company began providing broadband access to the Internet on intercontinental routes at the end of 2010.

So far, no mainland airlines offer access to the Internet on flights.