TAMPA, Fla. — American Airlines announced plans Nov. 30 to equip nearly 500 regional jets with multi-orbit Wi-Fi connectivity from Intelsat over two years starting in early 2024.

Intelsat is providing terminals that can connect to its geostationary fleet in addition to low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites from Eutelsat OneWeb, which partnered with the operator last year in the aviation market.

The terminal is based on antenna technology from Ball Aerospace, using integration designs and hardware from Stellar Blu Solutions, and is undergoing tests ahead of deployments.

Intelsat announced deals earlier this year to also provide the multi-orbit, electronically steered array antennas to Alaska Airlines, Air Canada, and Aerolineas Argentina.

Satellites in LEO are closer to Earth than geostationary orbit (GEO), meaning they can provide lower latency, high-speed broadband services. The more than 600 satellites in Eutelsat OneWeb’s LEO network also travel in polar orbit, enabling more global coverage than GEO satellites fixed along the equator.

Still, larger and more powerful satellites in GEO can provide more capacity to airports and other high-traffic areas.

American Airlines said it had made high-speed connectivity available on 900 aircraft across its mainline fleet earlier in 2023, using geostationary satellites from Intelsat and others. 

The company’s regional fleet comprises a mix of Bombardier CRJs and Embraer E-Jets.

In a Nov. 30 news release, the airline said Intelsat’s multi-orbit antennas would enable its “regional aircraft to match fast Wi-Fi speeds that are currently available on American’s mainline aircraft.”

The companies did not detail expected speeds, but said the service would enable passengers to stream, browse, check email, and log onto virtual private networks (VPNs) while in-flight. 

SpaceX’s Starlink LEO network promises similar high-speed services as it seeks to gain more traction in the aviation market following a handful of contracts with smaller airlines.

Intelsat also faces multi-orbit competition from companies such as Hughes Network Systems, which Delta Air Lines recently picked to connect 400 Boeing 717 and smaller regional jets currently using Intelsat’s air-to-ground connectivity service.

Hughes is providing antennas that can connect to its geostationary fleet under this deal, in addition to future non-geostationary satellites operating in Ka-band, such as Telesat Lightspeed and SES O3b mPower.

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...