Lufthansa Using Israeli Tech for In-flight Surfing

Very soon, you will be able to stay connected to the internet, send and receive e-mail or catch up on the news while flying high in the sky. Lufthansa plans to offer passengers satellite connection to wireless broadband internet, starting mid-2010.

The new service, to be called Flynet, will be provided on transcontinental flights, which includes its route to Israel. Lufthansa will be offering the service in partnership with the U.S. company Panasonic Avionics. The antenna systems that Panasonic will supply to Lufthansa are manufactured by the Israeli company Starling Advanced Communications.

Fifty Lufthansa planes that operate on long-distance routes will be equipped with Panasonic Avionic's ExConnect system in the first year of the system's operation. Similar systems will be installed in an additional 50 wide-body aircraft later.

Panasonic Avionics is considered one of the leading developers of satellite based communication services and entertainment systems that are installed in planes. Lufthansa will be the first to use the system.

Under the plan, passengers will be billed for the service through their credit card or their cell phone bill. In addition, Lufthansa is weighing the option of allowing customers to buy the service with frequent flier miles. The company hasn't publicized its official price list for the service yet, but the cost of a similar service that has been offered by Lufthansa in the past was $10-$30 per hour.

Lufthansa's head in Israel, Ofer Kisch, says that the system may be used with laptop computers, hand-held devices or smart mobile phones. In addition, if need be, the service will enable the use of TeleMedicine services, quick and accurate transfer of data between the plane and medical centers on the ground.

This won't be the first time that airlines have offered in-flight internet services. Lufthansa was the first in 2003 when it introduced wireless broadband internet on its commercial flights.

The firm invested $120 million at the time to equip the planes with systems made by Connexion by Boeing. But the service was suspended after the subsidiary floundered.

A similar service provided by El Al also met with a similar fate. A spokesman for the Israeli airline said that El Al is currently in talks with cellular companies and Panasonic Avionics to enable in-flight internet service.

Yokneam based Starling is the sole provider of the MIJET antennae that will be used by Lufthansa to provide the service. Starling's first contract with distributor EMS, valued at $9 million, with prospective revenues of up to $60 million, was signed in late 2008. EMS sells the antennae to Panasonic Avionics.

The antenna's uniqueness lies in its aerodynamic quality. It can maintain unbroken satellite connection regardless of angle or flight speed.