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United Airlines to offer satellite Wi-Fi on long-haul flights, beating Delta to the gate

Ian Paul | Jan. 17, 2013
United Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to offer satellite-based Wi-Fi on long-haul international flights after it added Ku-band satellite Wi-Fi from Panasonic Avionics to a Boeing 747. The Wi-Fi-equipped plane serves trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights; United has also added satellite Wi-Fi to two Airbus 380 aircraft that serve U.S. domestic routes.

Once a bastion of relative silence and rest thanks to the absence of connectivity options, airplanes are becoming increasingly connected. Aircraft maker Boeing plans to make cellphone connectivity a standard part of its 747, 748 and 777 airplanes by the end of 2013. Boeing also offers similar connectivity options on Boeing 737 aircraft and 787 Dreamliner planes.

But while companies are getting ready for the in-flight connectivity revolution, regulators are moving at a much slower pace. The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to allow passengers to use electronics during landing and takeoff. Many experts criticize the FAA's claim that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals could interfere with aircraft equipment as dubious. The FAA in August said it would reconsider its ban on operating electronic devices below 10,000 feet, but would not consider allowing cellphone calls.

One set of people that won't be using personal electronics during flights are members of the cockpit crew. The FAA published a proposal on Tuesday that pilots would be prohibited from using personal electronics on the flight deck while an aircraft is operational. The prohibition wouldn't cover electronics such as iPads, which are used as part of flight operations. The FAA's proposal isn't a bad idea since you wouldn't want your pilots so engrossed in a game of Angry Birds they didn't pay attention to the plane. That's exactly what happened in 2009, when two Northwest pilots flew 150 miles past their destination because the flying aces were distracted by their laptops.


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