April 20, 2005
Project aims for Internet to take flight
By DAVID BENSON Staff Writer (609) 272-7206
Taking the Internet to 30,000 feet is a rare combination of fun and
safety. That's the vision the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center
has for aircraft, passengers, pilots and crew throughout the United
Ralph Yost, a Linwood resident and manager for the Airborne Internet
project at the tech center, knows the freedom a wireless laptop
brings a person when connecting to the Internet through hubs in
bookstores and cafes. And, like most computer folks, he understands
the sense of isolation someone has when traveling on an airplane,
locked away from the network, separated by 30,000 feet.
Passengers miss out on streaming movies, e-mail, chat, even simple
things such as Web surfing. More importantly, Yost said in a recent
FAA publication, very little information can be updated digitally
for the in-flight aircraft.
Enabling Internet access on aircraft would give the crew automatic
updates of crucial data, such as the weather, turbulence and landing
conditions at a distant airport. Connected aircraft also would be
aware of one another, giving pilots a chance to maintain their
airplane's distance from others.
Strategic Aeronautics is one of the companies working with the FAA
on this technology. Tuesday, Jon Paris, a company spokesman, showed
how a Net-connected plane could "see" another connected plane, the
latter of which was idling on a runway.
"They're transmitting their positions," Paris said. "We can use that
data to do things in uncontrolled areas." Air traffic controllers
guide aircraft at busy airports and hubs, but smaller airports may
not have a controller.
The speaker in front of Paris' computer barked out a warning as the
first aircraft began its descent for landing. Moments later, it
issued the warning again that the second plane was still parked on
In effect, connecting the aircraft to one another through the
Internet is a way of giving pilots an extra set of eyes.
"With this kind of technology," Paris said, "runway collisions can
While Airborne Internet isn't yet used in commercial aircraft, Yost
said some private companies have built their own networks. "They're
proprietary networks," Yost said. "They cost about $600,000 each."
Yost's plan is to bring the price down by passing on some of the
cost to the consumer, a revenue stream for airline companies. While
you would pay to check your e-mail at 30,000 feet, at least you
would have the chance to do so.
For more information, visit the Web site, www.airborneinternet.com
To e-mail David Benson at The Press: