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Delta to have 'WiFi in the sky'

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

As early as next year, Delta Air Lines flights will be equipped with wireless Internet access.

The airline will have online access onboard its domestic flights, using Air-To-Ground technology, through a contract with Aircell's Gogo system. The technology will be installed on Delta's MD88/90 aircraft first, then expanded to the whole fleet by the Summer of 2009, according to a recent announcement.

Richard Anderson, Delta's chief executive officer, said the new system will be the "most extensive WiFi network in the sky."

Delta passengers will be able to connect with laptops, smartphones and PDAs, for a cost of $9.95 or $12.95, depending on the length of the flight.

"Our customers asked for in-flight connectivity, and we're responding," Anderson said, "providing a travel experience that maximizes the time our customers spend with us onboard, by offering them even more productivity options."

Aircell CEO Jack Blumenstein said the new "Air-To-Ground" broadcasting technology has changed what's possible on aircraft. Aircell, a 17-year-old "leader in airborne communications," holds an exclusive frequency license from the Federal Communications Commission.

According to the company's web site, the technology basically works like cell phone towers, with the device searching constantly for the best signal and a "mobile broadband network of ground towers" providing coverage at 35,000 feet.

The system is advertised as being cost effective, small and relatively light. It can be installed overnight, so Delta won't have to ground any airplanes to add the systems.

Installation is slated to start this fall. Delta plans to have Internet access on more than 330 flights by next summer.