- IATA/ICAO Code:
- Airline Type:
- Full Service Carrier
- Honolulu International Airport, Kahului Airport
- Year Founded:
- Peter Ingram
- United States
Last week a group of media types onboard a JSX flight over California enjoyed inflight WiFi exceeding 100 megabits per second. The Ookla app measured the speed, which was more than enough for streaming Netflix and YouTube videos, WhatsApp two-way video chats, internet surfing and emails.
Will the 100mbs scale up to widebody aircraft?
Delivering WiFi to around 300 passengers in crowded skies will be a big challenge for the Starlink system. Photo: Photo: Vincenzo Pace I Simple Flying
The system being demonstrated was Starlink, which has been chosen by regional carrier JSX Air and Hawaiian Airlines as its inflight WiFi provider. The one-hour flight flew from Burbank to San Jose, and although there were only around twelve people onboard, other devices boosted demand to the equivalent of 20 to 30 passengers on the system. No doubt, the existing suppliers, like Viasat and Intelsat, will point to the small number of passengers on the system, and it’s legitimate to ask if Starlink can support 300+ passengers on a Hawaiian Airlines widebody.
Starlink, part of Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), uses a constellation of low-flying small satellites to deliver its broadband. Since the satellites are closer to earth, they circle the planet every 90 to 120 minutes to provide a more robust signal that arrives sooner, giving less lag than higher altitude systems. The downside is that the smaller satellites have less capacity or bandwidth capability and may struggle to meet the demands of large aircraft in crowded skies. So far, Starlink has had success delivering broadband to rural customers in sparsely populated areas, with around 400,000 subscribers receiving their internet via more than 3,000 satellites.
Hawaiian needs Starlink to deliver the promise
The small footprint of Starlink’s receiver will suit the A321neos in Hawaiian’s fleet. Photo: Airbus
In April, Hawaiian Airlines announced it had selected Starlink to provide free high-speed, low latency broadband on flights between the islands, the continental US, Asia and Oceania. The airline said it was equipping its Airbus A330-200 and A321-200neo aircraft and its incoming Boeing B787-9 Dreamliner fleet with Starlink. It is not planning on installing the service on its fleet of 19 Boeing B717-200 that operate short-haul flights in the Hawaiian Islands. CEO Peter Ingram said Starlink would give the airline the best connectivity experience available in the air. He added:
“We waited until technology caught up with our high standards for guest experience, but it will be worth the wait. Our guests can look forward to fast, seamless and free WiFi to complement our award-winning onboard Hawaiian hospitality.”
Outside the aircraft, another attraction is the small footprint of the Starlink receiver. Bloomberg describes the flat antenna as “not much bigger than a large pizza box.” This suits the JSX fleet of Embraer jets more so than the larger and more bulky swiveling dishes widely used by other satellite services. According to ch-aviation.com, JSX has a fleet of 29 Embraer aircraft, including two EMB-135ERs, 14 EMB-135LRs and 13 EMB-145LRs.
Bloomberg also said that SpaceX had pitched Starlink to four of the largest US airlines without success and had missed out on a US government subsidy for $866 million because the system was “still developing technology.” The largest inflight provider is Intelsat, which has about 2,000 aircraft linked by its satellites and 1,000 aircraft connected by air-to-ground systems that communicate with earthbound gear. Its rival Viasat has systems on approximately 1,930 aircraft with agreements to outfit another 1,210 aircraft.
For the benefit of our global audience, it would be great to hear how well inflight WiFi is working in your part of the world.