Starlink signs first inflight Wi-Fi deal for services later this year

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TAMPA, Fla. — Jet service provider JSX said April 21 it is set to become the first air carrier to provide Starlink’s satellite broadband services later this year.

The semi-private charter company said it signed a deal to provide Starlink in-flight Wi-Fi on up to 100 planes, covering the 77 30-seat Embraer jets currently in its fleet. 

Financial details were not disclosed but JSX said it intends to provide the services to passengers free of charge.

The companies are testing a terminal that has been developed specifically for the aviation market, which Starlink vice president of commercial sales Jonathan Hofeller said March 22 is working toward certification on “various aircraft.”

JSX’s announcement comes days after Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told the Wall Street Journal April 18 that it has conducted exploratory Starlink tests on its aircraft. 

More than 300 Delta aircraft are currently equipped with Wi-Fi using Viasat’s satellite network, and the airline has plans to connect at least 200 more planes to that network by the end of 2022.

Delta said March 14 more than 50% of domestic enplanements are served by Viasat connectivity.

Viasat’s shares fell 1.4% to close at $45.54 April 18 after beginning the day at $46.17.

Inflight connectivity provider Gogo’s shares also took a hit after the Wall Street Journal’s report, even though it sold the commercial part of its business that serves Delta planes to satellite operator Intelsat two years ago.

Both companies’ stock prices suffered deeper declines after news of Starlink’s first airline deal emerged amid investor worries about future inflight connectivity competition.

Viasat’s shares started April 22 at $42.31, down 7.1% compared to their April 18 opening price.

Inmarsat, SES and many other established satellite broadband operators are also chasing an inflight connectivity market that — despite recently suffering under pandemic-related travel restrictions — promises significant growth as passengers increasingly demand better connectivity services.

Hofeller said March 22 that SpaceX sees connectivity on airplanes as ripe for an overhaul and that its services will be indistinguishable from conventional internet access.

The company started seeking regulatory permission in 2020 to test Starlink services on private jets and the vessels Falcon 9 rockets land on for reuse. SpaceX is also planning to connect vehicles and other types of boats to Starlink to expand the broadband network out of fixed homes and offices.

Starlink has a quarter-million subscribers that, following a recent price hike, are charged $110 a month for its standard service or $500 a month for a premium tier that uses an improved antenna with a broader scan angle.

To date, SpaceX has launched 2,388 satellites to expand its Starlink network, according to statistics maintained by spaceflight analyst and astronomer Jonathan McDowell. 

Of those, McDowell’s data shows 2,150 satellites remain in orbit and 2,121 are operational.

SpaceX’s most recent Starlink mission launched April 21 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

The Falcon 9’s reused first stage that helped the company deploy 53 Starlink satellites had previously flown eight Starlink missions.