AirBaltic Anticipates Rapid Starlink Connectivity Roll-Out
Latvian carrier airBaltic is hoping that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and FAA will soon approve the supplemental type certificate (STC) for SpaceX’s Starlink connectivity on the Airbus A220, paving the way for a fleet-wide roll-out before year-end.
In January, airBaltic detailed plans to equip its A220-300 fleet with Starlink, which uses low-Earth orbit satellites to provide high-speed onboard Wi-Fi. The Starlink service, which launched for commercial aviation last year, currently has coverage in around 40 countries.
“The antenna, itself, is completely different technology. We had a meeting together with Airbus and they are now discussing the technical details of the installation,” airBaltic CEO Martin Gauss told Aviation Week during a one-to-one interview.
Gauss has visited Starlink’s Los Angeles headquarters three times over recent months, and he said the companies have made “very, very good progress” during those meetings.
“We will get the STC—the FAA and EASA approval—to use the antenna on the A220,” he said. “I would say, with the current speed, before the year-end, we will have all aircraft from airBaltic equipped with it.”
Gauss said Starlink will give capability for all 150 airBaltic passengers on an A220 to stream high-bandwidth content at the same time, without having to sign up or log in. “The onboard speed of Starlink on the aircraft is so different, which means it will completely change the way how a passenger will be on an aircraft,” Gauss said. “I have to say I'm very, very impressed with it.”
Starlink’s satellites operate from an altitude of around 550 km, which is over 65 times closer to Earth than conventional geostationary satellites. SpaceX says Starlink can deliver inflight connectivity of up to 350 Mbps, with latency as low as 20ms.
Riga-based airBaltic is also internally brainstorming other Starlink use cases, including passenger service and efficiency improvements, through its ideaHub innovation forum.
AirBaltic has a fleet of 39 A220s, with a further 11 aircraft scheduled for delivery by March 2024, completing its 50-aircraft order. The Latvian carrier is planning an initial public offering in autumn 2024, which could generate the funds needed to firm its 30 A220 options.
From 2028, airBaltic will also be looking to start renewing its A220 fleet, because by then the type will have been in service for 12 years and some initial leases will be coming to an end.