Could more live TV be headed to United Airlines??

So, here’s a theory: United Airlines might be poised to add live television content to hundreds of aircraft currently fitted with the Panasonic Avionics (PAC) Ku-band inflight wifi service. It is just a theory, but I think there’s a decent chance based on conversations I’ve had in recent weeks and months with various vendors, including a pointed conversation a couple weeks ago at the Paris Air Show. The broader details of that conversation are shared in this Runway Girl Network story but for the sake of the United discussion I think there are a couple specifics to consider.

  1. We know that United Airlines is poised to be the first airline customer to receive new modems from Panasonic and Newtec. These new modems support simultaneous communications over a wide beam and spot beam connection from the same satellite, meaning higher data speeds (spot beams) and potentially TV (wide beams) through the single antenna already on the top of the plane.
  2. Panasonic expects to double the number of Live TV-fitted planes by the end of the year from the current number of ~650. United has about 400 planes with the PAC Ku-band system (~150x A320 family, ~50x 757 family, ~50x 767 family, ~90x 777 family, ~30x 787 family). And that’s the largest single pool of PAC customer aircraft without the live TV product flying today. It doesn’t complete the move to double the fitted fleet but it helps a lot.
  3. The new HTS satellites over North America have the increased capacity to easily and (more) affordably support the TV needs. As more airlines subscribe to the service on the same satellites the price per aircraft comes down since they’re all pulling the same data. PAC is committed to delivering the product to Southwest Airlines so adding United on is relatively cheap given that most planes are flying under the same satellites.
  4. United already has live television on most of the 737 fleet so fitting the others would be seen as unifying the product, something that the company can brag about as a service improvement.

There are also plenty of reasons to consider that United won’t be doing this. Namely that the numbers don’t really match up to what PAC is anticipating and that it costs money to add services like this.

Also, while my awesome image shows it possibly on the embedded IFE screens there’s also a chance it is only going to happen for the streaming devices platform. Just depends on how the airline and PAC would implement it all.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. @ Seth – Isn’t American upgrading a lot of their narrowbody fleet to Panasonic Ku-Band equipment? Could it potentially be them? They already offer live television on some international flights (Although its really only four channels).

    1. American is switching its single-aisle aircraft to ViaSat’s platform (~400 planes) or Gogo’s 2Ku (~150 planes) but not to PAC.

      And, yes, the existing intercontinental fleet has the 4 channels live today; many more channels are expected online soon over North America thanks to the Southwest deal. Southwest is definitely switching some planes to PAC but not enough to hit these numbers IMO.

  2. far cry from the days of a movie screen and stethoscope headsets ( does not seem that long ago to some of us)

  3. Thanks for the investigative work and sharing your insights.
    As Mike Murphy pointed out and I was just discussing with someone yesterday – it is a “far cry from the days of a movie screen and stethoscope headsets ( does not seem that long ago to some of us)”.
    Regards, Alastair Majury

  4. I don’t have TV at home so I wouldn’t care for it in the air. Give me stream-capable internet (regardless of the source) anyday

    1. Big cost differential to deliver that service. And if 10 people all want to stream CNN or Fox News or ESPN or any other live TV source it is WAY cheaper to do it this way than to try to support multiple streams to individuals. Even 10 people on 10 different planes is way cheaper this way.

    2. Will Netflix/HBOgo supported streaming happen in the next 5 years? If it is a quality and dependable stream, I would be willing to pay good money to have that capability…not every flight, but most

    3. It happens today on JetBlue’s planes (ViaSat/Thales hardware). United has the same kit on its 737s so theoretically can support it as well. The new 2Ku kit from Gogo can support it, too. Inmarsat claims GX will support it but I’m more skeptical of it scaling successfully on that platform.

      In all of these cases it comes down to total capacity of the satellites and who is paying for the data transfer. If a 1GB video stream costs $100 ($0.10/MB) to move on to the plane that’s a major expense to someone. And that price point is not all that out of the realm of reason for delivering traffic via satellite to a plane.

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