Alaska Airlines will invest $25 million to upgrade its regional aircraft with a new WiFi system from Intelsat capable of download speeds of hundreds of megabits per second, using traditional and new low-Earth orbit geostationary satellites.
The system is expected to debut starting in 2024 on Alaska Airlines’ sister carrier Horizon Air. 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 satellites will enable Wi-Fi service in remote areas like the state of Alaska, as well as improve Internet latency and performance.
They say it will allow passengers to stream videos and other apps that require high-speed internet, with the ability to use the service immediately after boarding instead of waiting for the gates to close.
“You need the experience in a regional jet right now, which is inferior compared to mainline, and brings it up to mainline level, and then some,” said David Scotland, director of experience and inflight products at Alaska Airlines, in an interview with GeekWire. this week.
The companies say the new service will be the first commercial airline application of an electronically directed antenna, which will be mounted on top of Embraer 175 jets used in the Alaska regional fleet. Alaska is switching to this fleet of jets on its regional routes, with the final flights of its Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft scheduled for this week.
Intelsat is Gogo’s in-flight internet successor after it acquired Gogo Commercial Aviation in December 2020. The upgraded Alaska Wi-Fi will be priced comparable to current service, around $8 per flight, Scotland said.
This electronically directed antenna uses technology from Ball Aerospace. The antenna has the advantage of connecting to both geostationary (GEO) satellites, which are 22,000 miles from Earth, and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, about 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, around 90 pounds, and a low profile that doesn’t protrude into the cabin, Dave Bijur, a senior vice president of Intelsat Commercial Aviation, said in an interview this week.
Intelsat is currently testing the GEO/LEO antenna and internet service on its own aircraft.
“That’s what we’re going to do most of 2023 is get him ready to go on that test plane so that by the time we get to the Alaska plane, he’s matured, has time in the saddle, if you will, and we’re ready. for prime time,” Bijur said.
Alaska uses different versions of the Boeing 737 for its primary service. For now, these Alaskan mainline jets 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 aircraft with the electronically steered antenna, Scotland said.