Lufthansa seeks to restore in-flight Internet

German airline in talks with potential partners to bring back onboard Wi-Fi access for passengers

German airline Lufthansa has stepped up efforts to revive a service that many of its business travelers on long flights had come to appreciate: in-flight Internet access.

"We would like to see the service relaunched as soon as possible and are in talks with a number of companies to form a new operating consortium," Lufthansa spokesman Michael Lamberty said Wednesday.

Lamberty declined to name the potential partners but said they could include satellite operators, wireless companies, and content providers.

One potential partner could be T-Mobile, the wireless subsidiary of German telco Deutsche Telekom, according to a report published Wednesday on the Wall Street Journal Web site, citing industry sources familiar with the negotiations.

Lufthansa has no plans to join the consortium but would support it as a key customer and provide technical help, if requested, according to Lamberty.

The airline was not only the first and biggest customer of Boeing's in-flight Internet service, called Connexion by Boeing; the airline was also a key contributor of onboard wireless networking technology, according to Lamberty.

"We helped give birth to in-flight Internet access," the spokesman said. "We're very interested in bringing it back."

Lufthansa, which equipped more than 60 of its 80 long-haul planes to provide Internet access, had offered the Connexion service commercially from early 2004 through the end of last year, when Boeing decided to shut it down, citing economic reasons.

The service was never adopted by U.S. carriers, stung by a huge travel slump that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Boeing said that it had looked for buyers for Connexion but failed to make a deal.

Twelve airlines installed the Connexion system in nearly 160 planes, offering service in Europe and Asia as well as on long-haul flights to North America, according to Lamberty.

"Response from our Connexion users was very favorable," he said. "It was a useful, affordable service, especially for those who wanted to use the downtime on long flights to manage their e-mail."

Customers paid $10 per hour or $27 for 24 hours, which could include connecting flights.