Verizon finally dumps Airfone on LiveTV
After years of looking for a buyer, Verizon Communications Inc on Monday agreed to sell its Airfone in-flight telephone service to LiveTV LLC.
Verizon has been trying to unload the business since 2006, when it said it would pull out of the commercial airline data-service business and evaluate options for that operation. Verizon didn’t view in-flight conversations as part of its core business. Terms of the Airfone sale weren’t disclosed.
Verizon merely inherited the business in 2000 through the merger of GTE Corp and Bell Atlantic Corp that created the company known as Verizon. GTE acquired Airfone in 1986 from Western Union Corp and A.F. Holding Inc for about $60 million. At that time, Airfone served about 300 planes and Amtrak’s Metroliner.
Airfone has been dreaming big since 1984, but the high cost of using the seat-back telephones and the awkwardness of talking during a flight has hampered business. Yet other services, such as AirCell, are trying rival systems for wireless data and telephone services on planes.
Airfone was created by Jack Goeken, who also started the FTD florist network and Microwave Communications, the entrepreneurial phone company that became known as MCI and eventually acquired by Verizon.
Goeken, who was described in one media report as “a self-made multimillionaire, with a figure like Jackie Gleason’s and the personality of Jerry Lewis,” created Airfone as a way to give executives a way to conduct business from the sky.
“Everywhere you go, you could make telephone calls except when you were in the air,” Goeken said in an interview with the Chicago Daily Herald. “You could be up in the air six or eight hours and wouldn’t know what was going on until you landed. I wanted to keep people in touch.”
He later created In-Flight Phone that offered a broader range of voice and data services. MCI bought a stake in that company in 1994.
Maybe JetBlue Airways Corp’s LiveTV unit will be able to expand on Goeken’s original dreams for Airfone. LiveTV plans to use Airfone to augment its Kiteline system, an in-flight email and messaging service. LiveTV said it will take over the Airfone network, which is supported by 100 base stations across the United States, starting January 1, 2009.
Meanwhile, Verizon is happy to discard Airfone and let LiveTV keep its head in the clouds.