Southwest’s first Panasonic connected plane is flying

Some nine months after announcing the dual-supplier approach and roughly five weeks after the first plane went into the shop Southwest Airlines now has a 737 with Panasonic Avionics‘ Ku-band wifi installed. Ship N8542Z left the MRO at Paine Field north of Seattle on August 23rd and entered commercial service on the 28th. The typical Southwest fleet utilization pattern has seen the aircraft hopping back and forth across the country since then, flying more than 20 flights in the past week with the kit installed.

While this is not a retrofit effort, replacing the Global Eagle Ku-band service on that aircraft, those conversions are coming. When Panasonic and Southwest announced their deal last December it focused on new delivery 737 MAX aircraft, but retrofits were also part of the arrangement. No one from any of the three parties has officially confirmed a number of aircraft that will be converted from GEE to PAC. In April PAC’s David Bruner said the number of total planes set to carry the PAC kit it is “measured in the hundreds and includes significant retrofit as well.”

This install also is not a line-fit job for PAC. That transition is expected soon but not happening yet. Bruner also indicated that at some future point all new line-fit 737MAX deliveries will be PAC hardware on board, though when that “hard switch” is set to take place is unclear.

The Southwest installations also include the updated Newtec modem in the Panasonic kit, allowing for service from the newer High Throughput Satellite systems recently placed into orbit. Panasonic expects to begin retrofit of its other North America-based customers’ installations this year (United Airlines is expected to be first for such). Other global customers will follow with “a very large percentage” of the current installations already committed to the upgrade. Bruner expects that all customers will eventually make the switch.

For passengers, it is hard to know just how the new service will behave on board. Southwest plans to continue offering its $8/day connectivity package pricing regardless of the underlying service provider, for example. Live television remains free on board as well. Panasonic promises a wider selection of channels to airline customers than the 16 or so Southwest and GEE currently provide, though the company remains quiet on specifics of that expanded channel listing.

A prior version of this story had this aircraft as a retrofit of GEE hardware. That was incorrect.

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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.