SpaceX has dubbed its low Earth orbit satellite-supported in-flight connectivity service as Starlink Aviation and is urging aircraft operators to reserve the solution now for “priority deliveries” from 2023.
Launching a dedicated Starlink Aviation webpage last week, SpaceX assured operators that onboard internet service can deliver up to 350 Mbps to each aircraft, “allowing all passengers to access streaming-enabled internet. at the same time”.
“With latency as low as 20ms, passengers can engage in previously non-functional in-flight activities, including video calls, online games, virtual private networks and other high data rate activities” , suggested the satellite operator and ISP, noting that Starlink Aviation will have global coverage including beyond the poles.
More than 3,000 Ku-band LEO Starlink satellites are already in orbit, and launches continue apace. On October 20, SpaceX launched 54 LEO satellites from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Notably, SpaceX is also providing visibility into its competitive IFC pricing structure, indicating that the Starlink Aviation service will cost from $12,500/month to $25,000/month with a one-time hardware cost of $150,000. The hardware includes an aero terminal, featuring an electronically controlled array antenna, plus a power supply, two wireless access points and beams.
The new antenna, which first erupted in June at the Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, Germany, will enable “new levels of reliability, redundancy and performance,” assures Starlink Aviation’s webpage. The proof will, of course, be in the pudding.
Delta Air Lines, a Viasat and Intelsat customer, conducted exploratory tests of Starlink’s technology on a regional jet last year. However, the American major is said to have tested an earlier circular antenna design.
SpaceX has already secured Hawaiian Airlines and “semi-private” jet operator JSX as customers. But the IFC solution is also clearly positioned as a solid option for business aviation operators. The Starlink Aviation website reveals that Supplemental Type Certificates (STCs) are being developed for Embraer ERJ-135 and ERJ-145 (which are flown by JSX), Gulfstream G650, G550 and G450; the Dassault Falcon 2000; and Bombardier Challenger 300, Challenger 350, Global Express, Global 5000, Global 6000 and Global 7500 jets.
The product is still in development, however, and its availability will be “subject to regulatory approval,” the Starlink Aviation page notes.
It is not immediately known when STC work will begin for the Hawaiian Airlines fleet. Over time, every Hawaiian Airlines passenger should expect free high-speed, low-latency Internet access “on board flights between the islands and the continental United States, Asia, and Oceania,” operated by the carrier’s Airbus A330 jumbo jets., narrow-body Airbus A321neo and an incoming fleet of Boeing 787-9s, Hawaiian said in April when announcing its deal for Starlink IFC.
Starlink Aviation competes with a multitude of IFC broadband providers in civil aviation. In the business aviation sector, competitors include, but are not limited to, air-to-ground connectivity (ATG) providers Gogo Business Aviation in North America and SmartSky Networks in CONUS, as well as service providers satellite GEO Collins Aerospace, Honeywell, Satcom Direct and Viasat.
IFC’s commercial aviation rivals include Anuvu, Intelsat, Inmarsat and its value-added resellers Panasonic Avionics, Thales and Viasat. Inmarsat and Viasat hope to reach a merger agreement before the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Gogo Business Aviation, Intelsat and Panasonic each announced deals with OneWeb, a B2B-focused low-Earth-orbit satellite operator that has partnered with ISPs and aviation integrators. In contrast, Starlink Aviation appears to take a more direct approach to the IFC market.
Featured image credited to Juliana Shallcross