Airbus aircraft with a Tenzing-developed means for passengers to send and receive emails in-flight have entered widespread airline service, marking the start of a new era in aircraft connectivity.

Cathay Pacific Airways, in partnership with Hong Kong Internet service provider PCCW NETVIGATOR, began offering the service this week on more than half of its fleet, including 28 Airbus aircraft.

This is the first time that email access has been introduced on such large numbers of airliners in scheduled service, as well as the first time that it has been deployed on aircraft to a wide range of long-haul destinations. Cathay Pacific plans to offer the service on its entire fleet by year-end. Its passenger fleet of 68 aircraft includes almost 40 Airbus A330s, A340-300s and A340-600s.

The widespread introduction on Airbus aircraft of Tenzing's email solution highlights the simple, affordable, and globally available nature of its product, which is the first, and so far only one, to be deployed in commercial service.

Airbus' partnership with Tenzing allows airlines to introduce email and related services with minimal investment, as well as to grow their customer-base and add new services in an evolutionary way - in response to market demand. It is the only service offering this, because it uses the satellite communications equipment already fitted to most long-haul airliners, plus the existing worldwide service provided by Inmarsat satellites.

In addition to offering Tenzing as today's preferred solution, Airbus continues to work with its partners to evolve a broadband solution, in a step-by-step way. This approach allows airlines to progressively grow their customer base to the point where it can support the higher cost of offering broadband service.

The Tenzing solution also allows airlines to maintain control of their customer-base, and is unique in offering "intelligent mail management," in which passengers pay only for the messages that they choose to read or send.

Cathay Pacific is initially providing the email service to passengers in first, business and the front rows of economy class. Access will be free until June, when passengers will begin paying a modest charge of $9.95 to read the headers of their emails throughout the flight, plus a further 60 cents for each kilobyte that they read or send (equivalent to about a page of text). Special rates will be available to account holders.

Passengers access their emails on their own laptop computers aboard the aircraft, using Tenzing software. The connection to the General Dynamics server that sends and receives the emails is via the aircraft's existing in-flight entertainment system.

Tenzing has also developed a means for passengers to send SMS telephone messages while in flight, and this has been in service aboard other Airbus aircraft since August 2002.

Airbus is an EADS joint Company with BAE SYSTEMS.