Boeing Frontiers
June 2003
Volume 02, Issue 02
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Connexion by Boeing


Broadband's now in the air—and passengers and airlines stand to benefit


airline passengers using Connexion by Boeing serviceScott Carson, president of Connexion by Boeing, remembers being on the first commercial airline flight to offer in-flight, real-time broadband service.

It was a mid-January Lufthansa German Airlines flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Washington, D.C., which marked the beginning of a three-month test of the Connexion by Boeing service on flights between the two cities. Soon after the connection went live and passengers could begin speedily surfing the Internet, tapping into their employers' private networks and accessing their e-mail accounts while soaring above the Atlantic Ocean, journalists asked to take a digital photograph of Carson and Lufthansa executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber celebrating the achievement.

By the time Carson and Mayrhuber returned to their seats a few minutes later and logged back on, Boeing had already published one of the images on the intranet, ready to be seen by Boeing employees across the globe—or, in the case of Carson, who had a secure link to the company's intranet, above it.

"Connexion by Boeing is about three things: freedom, connectivity and imagination. Our broadband capability opens up vast opportunities to communicate information and data that bring value to operators as well as passengers," Carson said.

By successfully demonstrating the capabilities of an in-flight, satellite-enabled realtime broadband data connection, Connexion by Boeing has shown that its technology solution is viable and valuable. Yet the benefits of Connexion by Boeing could extend beyond providing Web access to airplane passengers. By permitting a rich flow of data between a moving airplane and the ground, Connexion can help airlines cut operational costs and improve customer service—which, in turn, helps bolster Boeing's traditional platform-based businesses such as its Commercial Airplanes programs.

In a world where thousands of airplanes use Connexion by Boeing to send operational data to the ground, Carson said, "what we'd have is a global network-centric operation of the air transport system. There will be a lot of applications that will use Connexion by Boeing as the infrastructure to handle the information. That gets to be a pretty exciting proposition."

As shown in its three-month demo test period on Lufthansa German Airlines that ended in April, Connexion provided Lufthansa passengers with a reliable, valuable offering. Some 95 percent of respondents to post-flight surveys reported being very or extremely satisfied with the service, which passengers described as having a speed between ISDN- and DSL-quality. An average of 50 to 80 simultaneous users per flight accessed the service; indeed, on the first flight, Carson was among 150 users who logged on to the service.

"It is now possible to make the Internet fly. This makes us proud," said Mayrhuber at a Frankfurt press conference before the first Connexion test flight's departure.

Indeed, Lufthansa last month signed an agreement to equip its long-haul airplanes with the Connexion by Boeing service. Carson added that the current Connexion test on British Airways is going well. In addition, Carson said that Connexion by Boeing is in talks with Scandinavian Airlines Systems and Japan Airlines to definitize letters of intent signed last year to equip long-range jetliners in their fleet with the Connexion by Boeing system and service.

Yet Connexion by Boeing's benefits to airlines go beyond being able to offer their passengers an in-flight feature that could be marketed as a service distinction.

Because Connexion provides a broadband data conduit between an airplane in the sky and servers on the ground, it permits airplanes in motion to send and receive rich amounts of information. In other words, Boeing's broadband approach transforms airplanes into data nodes in a network—which gives the airplanes' operators the benefits of running a networkcentric operation.

This transformation creates tremendous opportunities to improve airline operations and efficiencies, Carson said. Among them:

• Expediting airplane maintenance. Today, airplane maintenance checks are conducted on the ground. But if the "health check" of an airplane's system could be conducted in midair, an airline's maintenance staff would have the time to queue up the proper parts, tools and manuals to perform a repair once the airplane reached the ground—and could get the aircraft back in the air more quickly. "Now you have a whole new economic model on the ground," Carson said.

• Reducing unnecessary medical diversions. Airlines have told Connexion executives that one of their biggest uncontrollable costs results from medical diversions, in which an airplane must make an unscheduled landing because of an onboard medical situation. Although many of these diversions turn out not to require emergency care, the cost and disruption associated with an unscheduled landing are significant. During this year's Connexion by Boeing demo on Lufthansa, the airline conducted a realtime medical analysis of a passenger, in which airline personnel transmitted the passenger's medical data in real time to medical professionals on the ground in order to assess the passenger's condition. "If it's not a medical emergency, you start to save real operational money" by not making a diversion, Carson said.

• Enhancing in-flight security. As a rich conduit of information, the Connexion by Boeing service could provide airlines and government agencies with data that can help support efforts to improve in-flight security. Connexion by Boeing's broadband capability could permit the real-time transmission of data from the Flight Data Recorder, or cabin or cockpit video, in order to enhance situational awareness in an emergency. "It's an interesting opportunity to grow what we're doing into other venues and to enhance both the perception and reality of safer travel," Carson said.

• Facilitating travel arrangements. Passengers who realize that in-flight delays may cause them to miss connecting flights or be late for appointments can use the Connexion by Boeing service to revise their arrangements. In fact, during a demonstration flight aboard the Connexion One research plane in early 2002, a member of the Connexion team feared that he might miss an Alaska Airlines commercial flight scheduled to take off shortly after the demo flight's landing. From the test plane, he logged on the Alaska Airlines Web site, where he checked himself in and printed out a boarding pass—saving just enough minutes to help him catch his flight in time.

As an indication of how valuable such applications could be to airlines, Carson said that carriers have asked Connexion for proposals, in spite of the airline industry's ills: "They see (Connexion's) value in times like this not only in terms of passenger service but also in airline operations."

Despite Connexion by Boeing's achievements, Carson realizes that competitive pressures exist. "No one will let us have this space to ourselves," Carson said, and new potential competitors seem to emerge monthly. But the competitor Carson has alerted his team to be most vigilant against is complacency. That's a special concern to Connexion by Boeing, which is in a business that's more akin to the mile-a- minute telecommunications field than the aerospace design and manufacturing industry, where product cycles can run for 20 or more years. Indeed, Carson said he believes the market can support profitably no more than two providers.

Connexion employees talk about "changing our DNA" to deal with the fast-paced dynamics characteristic of a consumer service business in fluctuating market environments. "There's a velocity here that I've never experienced before, challenges that are truly formidable," said Carson, who has 31 years experience with Boeing. "We have to be able to adapt quickly to market realities. ... Our job is to get to market as quickly as we can with the best product and the best growth potential."


Front Page
Contact Us | Site Map| Site Terms | Privacy | Copyright
© 2003 The Boeing Company. All rights reserved.