A plane operated by Delta
Delta has been installing Viasat’s Ka-band IFC system on aircraft, which will be compatible with all Viasat spacecraft including the three ViaSat-3 satellites. Credit: Delta Air Lines

SAN FRANCISCO – Delta Air Lines announced plans Jan. 5 to turn to Viasat for in-flight Ka-band connectivity for passengers flying in more than 300 of the carrier’s mainline narrow-body aircraft.

The announcement, which Delta says will lay the groundwork to make in-flight internet fast and free, covers new deliveries and retrofits of Airbus A321ceo, Boeing 737-900ER and select Boeing 757-200 aircraft.

“In working with Viasat, we gain the tools needed to deepen customer interactions and bring us closer to delivering more personalized in-flight content as well as an ability to consistently provide free, fast, streaming Wi-Fi in the future,” Bill Lentsch, Delta chief customer experience officer, said in a statement.

Delta plans to begin installing Viasat’s Ka-band In-Flight Connectivity system on aircraft this summer. The equipment is compatible with existing Viasat spacecraft and the new ViaSat-3 constellation scheduled to begin launching this year.

“It is no secret that bringing a brand-new Wi-Fi system onboard our aircraft will take time – the process from approvals to testing to implementation often takes several months,” Glenn Latta, Delta managing director for in-flight entertainment & Wi-Fi, said in a Jan. 5 blog posted addressing questions about the deal.

While the pandemic has lessened demand for air travel and in-flight connectivity, airlines and satellite communications providers continue to position themselves for a time when travel rebounds post-COVID-19. Fleet operator Intelsat announced plans in September to purchase Gogo’s Commercial Aviation in-flight connectivity business. Viasat also established an in-flight connectivity partnerships with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

Delta has relied for years on Gogo Entertainment to provide passenger Wi-Fi.

“To meet our long-term goals, we will work closely with multiple Wi-Fi suppliers, including both Gogo and Viasat,” Latta said in the blog. “Working with multiple partners means we can pair the right technology with the right fleet. We want to ensure customers always have access to Wi-Fi when available.”

Ekrem Dimbiloglu, Delta brand experience director, said in the blog that the airline is “committed to delivering free Wi-Fi in the future” and called the deal with Viasat “a significant step on that journey.”

In 2019, Delta conducted a pilot program to test free Wi-Fi and identify “the challenges to providing a service that meets our standard,” Dimbiloglu said. “Having the right equipment was a key part of that.”

Rick Baldridge, Viasat president and CEO, said in a statement, “Delta is committed to optimize the customer journey, and we’re committed to helping them build a foundation toward a better in-flight internet and entertainment experience.”

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...