Boeing will phase out its Connexion by Boeing service, leaving what it once considered a promising market for in-flight internet access.
Connexion offers broadband internet access via Wi-Fi, using a satellite connection to the internet, that costs about US$10 to $30 per flight on commercial airlines. It also offers high-speed internet access on executive jets and ships.
Connexion is offered on some commercial flights in Europe and Asia but was never adopted by a major US carrier. First conceived in 2000, the service was approved by the US Federal Aviation Administration in May 2002 as the nation's airlines were reeling from a travel slump that followed the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"Regrettably, the market for this service has not materialised as had been expected," Boeing said on Thursday in a written statement attributed to Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim McNerney. The company will work with customers on an orderly phase-out of Connexion, Boeing said.
The broadband system, which gave passengers with Wi-Fi-equipped devices full access to the internet, worked well, spokesman John Dern said.
"This was not a technology issue. It was a market issue," he said.
On an average flight, only a few passengers were using it, and even they weren't using it very much, Dern said. "We were seeing penetration numbers that were in the low single digits, and that was after the service had been out there for more than two years."
Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney, who has used the service, said it wasn't advertised well. And in business and first-class cabins, many passengers on night flights sleep instead of working, he pointed out.
The next trend for in-flight communications may be cellular, with new technologies emerging to make it feasible. But that would put a burden on passengers to carry the right type of device, because airlines wouldn't pay to put every cellular technology on board each plane, Dulaney said.