Airlines Ramping Up Inflight Connectivity

Man accesses Wi-Fi on mobile device onboard aircraft
Credit: Delta Air Lines

Next-generation, satellite-based inflight connectivity (IFC) systems are gaining traction onboard commercial aircraft. This week, two milestones were announced by IFC providers Viasat and Astronics Corp.

Viasat confirmed March 14 that Delta Air Lines’ extensive free Wi-Fi installation project will utilize its latest Ka-band IFC system. The initiative, first announced by Delta CEO Ed Bastian at CES in January, aims to bring free Wi-Fi connectivity to the airline’s fleet of international and regional aircraft. Delta began offering fast, free Wi-Fi on most domestic mainline flights starting Feb. 1 in partnership with T-Mobile.

Delta TechOps began installing fast-streaming satellite connectivity on the airline’s fleet in early 2021. It so far has installed the system on more than 540 domestic mainline aircraft. Now, the airline plans to have more than 700 aircraft equipped with Viasat’s IFC system by the end of 2023. In total, the IFC system will be installed on more than 1,000 aircraft, including all of its active Airbus A330, A350 and Boeing 767 aircraft, as well as its upcoming A220 and 737 MAX deliveries.

Satellite connectivity systems are also making progress at aerospace technology provider Astronics. It recently received FAA acceptance of its supplemental type certification (STC) project for installation of a satellite connectivity system on Boeing 777 aircraft.

Astronics' satellite connectivity system
Astronics' satellite connectivity system.
Credit: Astronics Corp.

The system is comprised of a ThinKom Ka2517 phased-array aero satellite antenna, Astronics’ newest modem manager, Dual-Modem ModMan, and outside aircraft equipment comprised of a radome, a newly designed adapter plate, a skirt and wiring.

Astronics says approval of the STC is scheduled for the second quarter of 2024.

Many airlines have recently started initiatives to improve connectivity onboard fleets. EasyJet rolled out AirFi’s IFC technology in late 2022 on the remainder of its continental European fleet. Southwest Airlines is upgrading Wi-Fi equipment on its fleet with Anuvu’s latest-generation hardware, which it says provides up to 10 times better speed and bandwidth. AirBaltic is awaiting European Union Aviation Safety Agency approval of an STC for SpaceX’s Starlink connectivity system on the Airbus A220, which it hopes to roll out on its fleet before the end of 2023.

Lindsay Bjerregaard

Lindsay Bjerregaard is managing editor for Aviation Week’s MRO portfolio. Her coverage focuses on MRO technology, workforce, and product and service news for, Aviation Week Marketplace and Inside MRO.