Boeing, the world`s largest aerospace group, said on Thursday that US regulators granted a license allowing its Connexion in-flight entertainment service to transmit two-way broadband data.
The approval by the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the communications spectrum in the US, helps clear the way for Boeing`s satellite services for airplanes. The Connexion service plans to offer real-time, internet, email and live television broadcasts to passengers on commercial airlines, as well as corporate jets and other flights.
A critical issue in the FCC`s year-long review of the license was whether Boeing could show that broadband transmissions would not interfere with other spectrum users - and perhaps cause in-flight dangers.
Nevertheless, the new license is a somewhat hollow victory for Boeing right now. Following the September 11 US terrorist attacks, travel demand fell sharply forcing the airlines to slash their capacity 20 per cent by grounding airplanes, holding orders for new ones, and cutting costs.
As a result of that, Boeing executives have said that airline customers have told them they cannot afford to outfit planes with the Connexion services, clouding the unit`s future.
The three largest US airlines - American, United and Delta - have stepped back from plans to roll out Connexion in their planes in the middle of next year because of the attacks.
Lufthansa, the primary German carrier, is the only airline with plans to use the service and Boeing said on Thursday it could start installing it in long-haul planes late next year or early 2003.
The company has since changed the near-term strategy for Connexion to focus on potential security applications in domestic airline travel. Phil Condit, Boeing chief executive, has said Connexion`s technology could initially be used to create two-way broadband transmissions of flight data - such as those carried on the so-called black boxes. It even could be used someday to remotely fly a troubled plane, or provide more knowledge to air traffic controllers.