Passengers rave about Aircell’s 3G Internet

 - December 29, 2009, 4:08 AM

By anybody’s measure, the last year has been a big one for Aircell. The number of airline passengers using the company’s Gogo in-flight Internet service grew at an exponential pace (Aircell is about to celebrate the two millionth passenger logon) just as the first business jet passengers started getting their first taste of a truly fast data connection, available anywhere over the continental U.S.

AIN had the chance to fly on a Falcon 20 equipped with the Aircell 3G Internet hardware a while back, but that was before the traveling masses started using the service and–as Aircell’s detractors claim will happen eventually–causing network slowdowns. A few months ago I boarded an AirTran flight from Newark to Atlanta and found–lo and behold–the Gogo service was available for a charge of about $10. Shortly after takeoff I logged on and was pleasantly surprised that the experience in my admittedly cramped airline seat was indeed “phenomenally great,” just as Aircell’s then-CEO Jack Blumenstein promised me it would be. A scan of Facebook and Twitter routinely provides virtual glimpses of happy Gogo users mid-flight–I once even saw an online message from Zack Braff, the star of the ABC comedy Scrubs, thanking the “geeks” at Aircell who made it possible for him to download MP3s at 35,000 feet.   

But the really big news is that the Aircell service is now migrating to business jets. “After a generation of effort, the industry’s ‘airborne office’ concept became a genuine reality for business aviation in 2009,” noted John Wade, senior vice president and general manager for Aircell. “For the first time, passengers in all sizes of business aircraft–even the light and midsize categories–can use their own devices to access the entire Internet just like they’re accustomed to doing on the ground.”

Based on early customer feedback, it’s a true statement. What makes Wade’s proclamation all the more heartening is that the “office in the sky” promises have always seemed to fall far short–that is, until now. Demand for the Aircell Internet system is said to be high among business jet operators. More than 300 orders have been received since shipments started last June–an adoption rate that Aircell said is exceeding all past product introductions. Aircell’s biggest challenge now is in working to fill its order backlog.

Thanks to the service’s performance, it has been receiving rave reviews from business aviation users. “To say the least, the reaction from passengers was all smiles,” said the chief pilot for a U.S.-based Falcon 2000 after completing a series of charter trips. “One group said they didn’t want to get off the airplane–they were pounding away on their BlackBerrys and laptops. Everybody just loves the system.”

I thought back to my own experience on AirTran and recalled feeling the same way when the flight attendant told us it was time to turn off our personal electronics.
Aircell says its two connectivity systems, the ATG-4000 and ATG-5000, are being adopted by virtually every segment of business aviation and OEMs are now offering the gear as optional equipment.