This story is produced in partnership with PaxEx.Aero - The Business of Passenger Experience
When it comes to delivering faster inflight internet connections new satellites are a key component. For American Airlines, JetBlue and Icelandair the next generation of connectivity got a little closer this week as ViaSat-2 reached its orbital slot and begin passing test data. The new satellite offers a significant boost to both capacity and coverage area for Viasat’s customers, with these three airlines among the first to take advantage of the new kit.
For American Airlines the Viasat hardware being installed today is compatible with the new satellite meaning those aircraft can take advantage as soon as ViaSat-2 is commercially available. The target date for that remains February 2018.
“This is a great achievement for the Viasat team, our customers and our partners,” said Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO, Viasat. “The ViaSat-2 system is the culmination of years of hard work and commitment to bringing a satellite platform to market that can deliver truly high-speed, high-quality broadband to many more people, and with a much greater geographic reach. We’re another step closer to bringing the ViaSat-2 satellite into service.”
For JetBlue using the new satellite is a bit more challenging. The carrier’s 200+ aircraft fitted today require an on-board hardware upgrade to use the new satellite. That’s an expensive proposition, both for the actual system costs and taking the aircraft out of service to deliver the upgrade.
JetBlue confirmed that it would make the investment to upgrade that hardware as part of a recent announcement regarding its A320 cabin retrofit program. That work is significantly delayed due to challenges from IFE/C provider Thales and also because the new Space-Flex v2 lavatory/galley combination from interiors provider Zodiac & Airbus is proving to be less than reliable on the A321 fleet. The carrier is awaiting updates from Zodiac for the new interiors before commencing the A320 retrofit work.
Getting the new hardware on board those A320 and A321 aircraft is a significant boost, both for the extra capacity available and the increased coverage area. JetBlue operates a significant portion of its flights into the Caribbean and Latin America where the Fly-Fi inflight connectivity network is not available. As the aircraft are upgraded those routes will be able to deliver on the service.
Flights to Colombia and Peru will still have portions outside of coverage but most island routes will have service as they are upgraded. That process is expected to take a couple years. The Embraer E190 fleet is not getting the new hardware kit but those planes are rarely flying into the Caribbean relative to the A320 family.
For Icelandair the hardware will be installed on the 737MAX fleet. Those aircraft are scheduled for delivery starting in 2018 and spanning a 4 year window. They can take advantage of the ViaSat-2 coverage for flights between North America and Iceland and Eutelsat‘s Ka-band service for flights to the European continent.
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