Want Gogo‘s in-flight internet service on your airplane? Get ready to do some retrofit work to make that happen. Neither Airbus nor Boeing offer the installation as part of their line-fit options for new aircraft so getting the hardware on board happens after the airline takes delivery of the new plane. For Delta the installation is part of a multi-day onboarding process for new planes (it can be done in as little at ~5 hours if just the wifi install); I got to see the work in progress as a guest of Delta’s a couple weeks ago. And a lot of the other innards on the plane as well.
Once in the hangar the plane is officially marked as out of service and then the work begins. Engineers punch holes in the fuselage to allow for the antenna cabling to pass through and also add mounting brackets and, eventually, the antennae. The plane we saw had the ATG3 antenna already installed on the belly and the mounting kit for the ATG4 antenna in place but the antenna itself was not yet attached.
In addition to the external antenna installation there’s also the wireless access points and other hardware installed in the cabin. Getting those bits installed means pulling apart a perfectly good aircraft brand new from the factory and making some minor adjustments to the spaces behind the cabin panels. First up, the access points are mounted on the ceiling.
And then lots of wires are run between them providing the necessary connectivity.
And the Gogo bits have to be routed around all the other hoses, wires and ducting in the plane.
And then, eventually, the panels are all put back into place and the aircraft enters service. With a couple thousand commercial aircraft installs complete the folks doing the work have it pretty well figured out at this point and the process runs smoothly. As for why Delta’s version is slower than average, that is a result of the carrier performing other maintenance tasks and upgrades to the planes as part of the induction. Still, about a week after taking delivery of the plane it is fully updated and carrying passengers. Not too shabby.
Also worth noting that Gogo and Boeing are in discussions about making the kit a line-fit option on the 737 MAX production line. Should that come to pass the hardware will be installed at the factory, not by the operating airline. That should save some time in getting the planes into service.
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