Chartering a private jet has long had its privileges, including door-to-door limo service on the ground and satellite phones in the air. But one amenity has long eluded the charter jet traveler: high-speed wireless Internet.
Even as commercial carriers have installed high-speed Internet on their planes, private charter companies have found the technology too expensive and bulky for their smaller aircraft. That meant while everyday passengers on Southwest, Virgin and Alaska Air flights could surf the Web from their seats, wealthy individuals and Fortune 500 executives in chartered Lear jets and Gulfstreams couldn't get a whiff of Wi-Fi.
Now, one L.A. plane charter company is set to break the wireless barrier. Clay Lacy Aviation Inc. in Van Nuys claims it will be the first charter plane company in the country to equip its fleet with high-speed wireless Internet.
Executives with Clay Lacy and Aircell LLC, which build the Internet devices, said the service will be comparable to the high-speed Internet connections that most people have at home or in the office. The move is perhaps overdue given that charter companies cater to the very people who feel they can't be disconnected from the Internet for more than a few minutes.
"It's a business tool," said Clay Lacy, the charter company's chief executive. "This equipment allows a guy to get in the plane and continue working the exact same way he was working in his office, all the way to his destination."
But it's also evidence of the pressure commercial airlines have exerted on private charters as they ramp up the availability of high-speed wireless in their fleets. Delta Air Lines Inc. has outfitted more than 100 of its planes with high-speed wireless Internet supplied by Aircell. American Airlines plans to have Wi-Fi aboard about 150 of its larger aircraft by the end of this year.
"Really for business travelers, this is a must-have," said Michele Merluzeau, a managing partner with G2 Partners, an aerospace and defense consulting firm. "Clay Lacy and all the other operators are feeling a little bit of pressure to equip their birds with what is becoming more common in premium and economy travel."
Charter operators have provided Internet access to clients in the past, but only through satellite service, which was slow and expensive. Until Aircell built a lighter, smaller and cheaper device, installing Internet on private jets typically cost about $300,000 to $400,000, offered dial-up speeds and required passengers who used it to pay up to $12 a minute.
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