Upstart airline Virgin America said Wednesday it has become the first carrier to offer Wi-Fi Internet service on every flight.
Any carrier that establishes a big head start over rivals could have an advantage in the battle to attract coveted business-class passengers who would be most apt to use the service. Airlines hope revenue from Internet-access fees will cover installation costs, roughly $100,000 per aircraft for the most widely used service, and add to their perennially challenged bottom lines.
Virgin America is using Aircell’s Gogo service, which was the exclusive winner of a Federal Communications Commission license in 2006 to build a mobile- broadband network for commercial and business aviation. AMR Corp.’s (AMR) American Airlines is installing Gogo on more than 300 U.S. planes the next two years.
Delta (DAL), which last year said it would be the first of the major airlines to equip its entire domestic fleet with the service, has Wi-Fi on about 130 aircraft currently and won’t be finished equipping all 500 until late next year.
Prices on Virgin America for the service will range from $5.95 to $12.95. The airline flies coast-to-coast from nine cities and began service in August 2007. It has 28 planes.
Richard Branson’s London-based Virgin Group Ltd. is minority owner, and the carrier has been wrapped in ownership squabbles as to whether it is actually Branson that controls the airline. To comply with U.S. laws, the airline had to persuade regulators that it is at least 75% owned and controlled by U.S. investors.