In an effort to stay ahead in the cut-throat airline market, Virgin Atlantic will today announce the provision of inflight email and internet services for all passengers on its long-haul routes.

The move is seen as significant, opening up a market which some say will be worth tens of billions of dollars by 2010. The prospect of massive and segmented semi-captive audiences could also confer a new lease of life on the ailing internet ad industry.

Virgin plans to make the new service available to all passengers, irrespective of travel class, on its twenty long-haul aircraft. Although the airline is not alone in planning such a service, rivals are focusing solely on business and first class sectors. Says a Virgin spoke: “We're saying it should be available to everyone.”

The pioneering technology, developed by Tenzing Communications, a small Seattle-based company, will harness current satellite communications to provide a limited email and web access system. Installation, said to cost as little as $50,000 per aircraft, is seen by Virgin as a powerful marketing tool and will commence this summer. Completion is forecast for the year end.

News source: Wall Street Journal