US-based low-cost carrier Jet Blue yesterday announced its intention to partner with Viasat for inflight connectivity on its forthcoming fleet of 70 Airbus A220-300s. This is a continuation of a long-running partnership between the two companies since JetBlue first launched its Fly-Fi IFC in December 2013.
Mariya Stoyanova, director of product development at JetBlue, said in a statement,
“Since launching Fly-Fi, JetBlue has set the pace for how airlines should offer in-flight entertainment and internet services to customers. Our new agreement with Viasat is a strong endorsement to their ongoing commitment to technology advancement, which we believe will help us continue to deliver great experiences to our customers—no matter where they fly with us.”
JetBlue will start receiving the first of their A220s next year, although delivery dates are yet to be confirmed. Although the A220 is primarily designed to replace their fleet of Embraer ERJ-190s on transcontinental routes, a recent increase in the MTOW of the A220 means it has the potential to fly transatlantic too.
JetBlue has been open about their commitment to transatlantic services, announcing flights starting in 2021 using the A321LR. However, the A220 remains an option and could be an interesting aircraft to see entering this marketplace.
The Viasat Ka-band IFC
The fleet of JetBlue A220s will be equipped with the latest generation Ka-band IFC from Viasat. This system is designed to work with the best technology available right now, as well as being compatible with future innovations in the satellite marketplace. Don Buchman, vice president and general manager, Commercial Aviation at Viasat commented,
“We’re incredibly proud to equip JetBlue’s entire new Airbus fleet with our ViaSat-3 capable IFC solution … What’s exciting about our partnership, is that throughout the years we have maintained a shared goal: to keep the end-customer front and center by … a home-like internet experience in the air. With our current and future satellite fleet, we are ready to serve JetBlue as they broaden their plans within the Americas and across to Europe.”
According to a Viasat press release on the technology, the main improvements include:
- Antenna: The second generation antenna supports the full spectrum of the Ka-band, doubling usable satellite capacity over Gen-1 cohorts.
- Modem: The new modem allows for a throughput of up to 1GBps.
- Radome: The Gen-2 radome has been optimized for reduced weight and reduction in signal distortion.
- Server: The new server uses a quad-core Intel CPU and has 30TB of solid-state storage onboard.
- WAPs: Using 802.11ac WAPs, Viasat says they can reduce the potential bottlenecks caused by cabin design, delivering higher speeds to each connected device.
The system has been designed to offer both forwards- and backward-compatibility with satellite technology. In particular, it has been created to work with the most advanced Viasat platforms, including Viasat-2 and the forthcoming Viasat-3 class satellites. The end result is a product that can deliver speeds of up to 100-200Mbps or more to each aircraft.
Since its launch in 2017, the Gen-2 IFC has been installed on hundreds of aircraft, with the company passing the 100 aircraft milestone in July 2018. Overall, the company supplies in excess of 1,600 aircraft with Viasat’s Ka service, including American Airlines, Qantas, United, Singapore and Qatar. You can watch Nordic airline SAS getting its Viasat WiFi installed in the video below:
How much will WiFi on the JetBlue A220 cost?
Normally, we would need to wait some time to speculate on the potential costs of an IFC service, at least until the carrier has its first aircraft delivered. However, we think we already know just how much. Nothing.
Back in 2017, JetBlue became the first airline to offer free WiFi to all passengers, from gate to gate. And, unlike some ‘free’ WiFi offerings, their system is not limited by time or by data, and it’s not absolutely awful either. Today, it’s offered on its entire fleet, achieving speeds of around 20Mbps in most cases.
SITAONAIR CEO David Lavorel previously told Runway Girl Network that he doesn’t know how JetBlue does it. He is quoted as saying.
“…If you want to max out your passenger adoption but you want a top quality of service and you want it at a very low cost, it doesn’t really exist, except maybe JetBlue found the magic wand”
Of course, it almost certainly helps that the carrier’s Fly-Fi system is sponsored by Amazon. That’s a company with deep pockets, and the notion that sponsoring JetBlue’s free WiFi might encourage some to sign up to Amazon Prime is surely not lost on the retail giant.
Rolling out free WiFi, particularly on a transatlantic route, would be something of a game-changer. Low-cost European carrier Norwegian has recently started rolling out free WiFi on long haul flights, making them the first carrier to do so. However, there is a catch. Norwegian’s free WiFi is partitioned, offering only basic (read: slow) connections for free. Passengers wanting a service which will allow streaming still need to pay.
For JetBlue, their foray into transatlantic services is a brave move. To do it in a narrowbody, whether the A220 or the A321LR, sounds almost bonkers. But with Viasat promising an amazing WiFi experience for free, passengers just might find their new favorite way to cross the pond on JetBlue’s smaller aircraft.