TAMPA, Fla. — Air New Zealand announced plans Dec. 12 to trial Starlink broadband on domestic flights as competition to connect planes from low Earth orbit (LEO) prepares to take off next year.

SpaceX’s LEO service will be installed on two Air New Zealand planes in late 2024 for an initial four-to-six-month period, the airline said, including on a turboprop-powered ATR aircraft for the first time.

Air New Zealand will look to deploy Starlink on other aircraft in its domestic fleet in 2025 if the trial run is successful. The company had 105 aircraft operating across its entire fleet as of Oct. 31.

Starlink connectivity would enable passengers to access the internet as if they were at home, according to Air New Zealand, with latency as low as 30 milliseconds.

The agreement marks an important win for Starlink’s aviation business as rival LEO services from OneWeb — now owned by geostationary satellite operator Eutelsat — are slated to launch commercially for the aviation market next year.

While SpaceX sells Starlink directly to airlines, OneWeb satellite services would be distributed via partnerships with companies such as Intelsat, which also operates a fleet in geostationary orbit (GEO). 

Intelsat said Nov. 30 it had won a deal to equip nearly 500 regional jets operated by American Airlines with an antenna that could connect to GEO and OneWeb satellites in LEO, hot on the heels of similar agreements with Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, and Aerolineas Argentina.

Thanks in part to SpaceX’s launch services, OneWeb recently amassed enough satellites for its constellation to offer global coverage, and currently operates more than 600 of them in LEO. 

SpaceX has more than 5,000 Starlink satellites in LEO, following an aggressive launch campaign that kicked off nearly four years ago using Falcon 9 rockets built and operated in-house.

But while Starlink has a first-mover advantage over OneWeb, progress with airlines has been slow as the company navigates technical and regulatory hurdles in the market.

Small U.S.-based regional jet service providers JSX, Flexjet, and Aero have said Starlink services have already launched on their planes.

However, Hawaiian Airlines, the first major airline to announce a deal with Starlink, and airBaltic of Latvia have pushed out plans to offer the services from this year to 2024. 

Details around plans by Qatar Airways and Japan’s Zipair to deploy Starlink connectivity are also scarce.

Competition between OneWeb and Starlink could soon come to a head after Alaska Airlines announced plans Dec. 3 to buy Hawaiian Airlines.

Jason Rainbow writes about satellite telecom, space finance and commercial markets for SpaceNews. He has spent more than a decade covering the global space industry as a business journalist. Previously, he was Group Editor-in-Chief for Finance Information...