JAL has signed a letter of intent with Connexion by Boeing, a Boeing unit that is promoting and operating a broadband data communications service that relies on satellites to deliver Internet connectivity to aircraft.
The letter calls for the service to be installed on 10 long-haul aircraft as a first step, with an option on equipping additional aircraft in the future.
Financial terms of the deal and timing of the service launch were not disclosed, but it has been reported that JAL plans to introduce the service in 2004.
The service offers a capacity of up to 20Mbps downstream to the aircraft and 1Mbps from the aircraft although those speeds could vary considerably because of the weather and other factors.
As a minimum, Boeing says customers should be able to access the Internet at 56Kbps, the same speed as a dial-up modem.
The deal makes JAL the first Asian airline to sign up for the service, for which Germany's Lufthansa is expected to become the first airline user later this year. British Airways will follow with a launch next year, according to Boeing, which already markets the service to private and executive aircraft owners in the US.
The service suffered a setback late last year when passengers avoided air travel in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US. AMR's American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and UAL's United Airlines all said they were putting plans on hold to roll out Connexion-based services on 500 aircraft in their respective fleets.
With intercontinental flights between Asia and Europe or the Americas often lasting more than 12 hours, Asian airlines are keen to provide e-mail and Internet services to their customers.
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific began offering a delay-based e-mail service on some of its aircraft last year, using a system developed by Seattle-based Tenzing Communications. The same system is also either in use or is be used by Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Varig and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Tenzing is working with Airbus Industrie, Boeing's European-based rival, on the system.