Alaska Airlines will invest $25 million to upgrade its regional jets with a new Intelsat WiFi system capable of download speeds of hundreds of megabits per second, using both traditional geostationary and new low-Earth satellites.
The system is expected to be rolled out on Alaska Airlines’ sister airline, Horizon Air, beginning in 2024. The satellite system will replace an existing system that relies on ground antennas for WiFi coverage on regional aircraft.
Alaska Airlines and Intelsat say the move to satellite will enable WiFi services in remote areas like the state of Alaska, in addition to improving Internet latency and throughput. They say it will allow passengers, among other things, to stream videos, with the ability to use the internet immediately after boarding rather than waiting.
“It takes the experience on a regional jet right now that’s subpar compared to mainline and brings it to mainline level and then some,” said David Scotland, Alaska Airlines inflight product and experience director, in an interview with GeekWire in this week.
The companies say the new service will be the first commercial airline application of an electronically steered antenna, which will be mounted on the roof of the Embraer 175 jets used in Alaska’s regional fleet. Alaska is transitioning to this all-jet fleet on its regional routes, with the final flights of its Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft scheduled for this week.
Intelsat is the successor to Gogo Inflight Internet after acquiring Gogo Commercial Aviation in December 2020. The price of the service will be comparable to the current price of $8 per flight, Scotland said.
This electronically controlled antenna uses technology from Ball Aerospace. The antenna has the advantage of being linked to both geostationary (GEO) satellites located 22,000 miles from Earth and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites located approximately 300 miles from Earth . Intelsat’s system uses the OneWeb LEO satellite network for connectivity.
A key factor is the antenna’s relatively light weight, about 90 pounds, and its slim profile that doesn’t protrude into the cabin, Intelsat Commercial Aviation senior vice president Dave Bijur said in an interview this week.
Intelsat is currently testing the antenna and internet service GEO/LEO on its own aircraft.
“That’s what we’re going to spend most of 2023 on – preparing it for use on this test plane, so it’s mature by the time we get to Alaska’s plane, has time in the saddle if you will, and we’re ready at prime time.” “, Biyur
Alaska uses various versions of the Boeing 737 for its mainline service. For now, these mainline jets in Alaska will continue to use Intelsat’s 2KU mechanically steered antenna for GEO satellite internet connectivity for passengers.
However, over time, as the combined GEO/LEO system is refined on regional aircraft, it could also be considered for retrofitting Alaska’s mainline airliners with the electronically steered antenna, Scotland said.