How the Internet became airborne

Almost 10 years of experience and perfecting, more than 91% of the intercontinental fleet already equipped, 10,000 satisfied customers: Lufthansa FlyNet® not only represents a milestone in service by Lufthansa, it is also an impressive example of a technical pioneering spirit.

A wonder of technology

As much as we take using the Internet for granted on the ground, it is very complicated to offer this service at an altitude of 32,000 feet (10,000 metres). For what can be solved quite simply on the ground by the nearest radio mast is a real challenge high in the skies. Lufthansa was the first airline in the world to tackle this challenge — and successfully introduced a satellite-supported system with a high transmission speed (broadband).

Geostationary satellites circle approximately 22,000 miles (36,000 km) above the earth and it is these that FlyNet® accesses. Strung together like a pearl necklace, the satellites are located directly above the Equator — and therefore spread around the world. Once the aircraft is on its flight route, it sends the signals to the nearest satellite. From there these are redirected to the ground and received again. The important thing here is that a line of sight exists from the aircraft to the satellite. Once an aircraft leaves a satellite’s output range, the connection is transferred to the neighbouring satellite. And it is precisely this ‘transfer’ that is the technical tour de force.

“More than 91% of Lufthansa intercontinental aircraft have FlyNet® on board”

In order to facilitate Internet access on board, an antenna is located in the aircraft’s fuselage which establishes a connection to the satellites and remains upright during the flight. Passengers on the entire Lufthansa long-haul route network and even over the world’s oceans can therefore send or receive data and e-mails. Even internal company networks can be easily accessed via a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

The WLAN technology employed has been certified by the aviation authorities and ensures that neither the on-board electronics nor the aircraft frequencies can be affected.

FlyNet® as it developed

Absolutely reliable

The system is available to all passengers for more than 91% (of the time). Nevertheless, there can be restrictions caused by the system from time to time. The most important reasons for this can be quickly explained: due to the curvature of the earth a short break can occur in the line of sight to the satellite on far northern flight routes across the North Atlantic, for example.
Likewise the system is not equipped for extreme weather conditions — in the event of thunderstorms or thick fog in the vicinity of the ground stations connection outages between the satellite and the ground station may occur. So far, only over Chinese airspace have airlines been forbidden by the relevant Chinese authorities from offering an Internet connection on board. The service is therefore available on flights to Asia until Chinese airspace is reached; the system switches on again when the aircraft leaves Chinese airspace.

Photo gallery: installation of a FlyNet® antenna

Click on the image and find out step by step how a FlyNet® antenna is installed in an Airbus 340-300.

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