British Airways looking at onboard Web access

British Airways passengers could get onboard Web surfing, e-commerce and email by 2001.

Three leading airlines: American Airlines, British Airways and Delta Air Lines, are vying to test a new AT&T onboard server which promises reasonably priced email, limited Web surfing and an e-commerce route to an affluent, captive market, according to sources. "It's a very effective way to capture consumers in their seats," said David Bruner, on leave as operations senior vice president at AT&T Wireless' Aviation Communications division.

Though a long-awaited packet-data upgrade finally seems cleared for take-off, the pilot's identity remains a question. AT&T has decided to unload the business. A $65m (£40m) sale to shaky Iridium crashed in June. The division is being shopped again to several potential buyers, including a Bruner-led group.

Onboard phone revenue continues to descend but AT&T hopes data opportunities will keep the sale price aloft. Airline tests should start in 2000's first quarter, purchase decisions next summer and fleet installations late next year, said John Courtright, aviation unit sales director. He expects widespread service availability in 2001.

The division will offer 9.6Kbps connections, doubled by combining channels. Data-intensive Web graphics will reside in the onboard server, so only text and data will have to arrive fresh via ground or satellite.

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