Viasat wins entire El Al fleet for Ka-band inflight connectivity

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Viasat has announced an expansion of its partnership with Israeli flag-carrying airline El Al. Already supplying its Boeing 737s and 787s with high-speed internet services, Viasat will now also provide inflight WiFi for El Al’s fleet of Boeing 777s.

El Al 777
With the addition of the 777s, Viasat will power the entire El Al fleet for WiFi. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Don Buchman, vice president and general manager, Commercial Aviation at Viasat commented in a press release,

“EL AL was first to launch Viasat’s fast IFC service in Europe and the Middle East; first to deploy high-speed internet on transatlantic flights using the advanced ViaSat-2 satellite; and are now the first airline to bring IFC to the Boeing 777 aircraft for global routes before the launch of our ViaSat-3 satellite constellation. Enabling high-speed, high-quality internet to their full fleet confirms their dedication to bring customers and crew fast, reliable connectivity service—no matter where they fly.”

Renovation of the 777s

El Al is on the brink of embarking on a $2.5m renovation of its fleet of 777s. With just six aircraft in the fleet, that’s a pretty substantial investment per plane. However, it’s not just to make them look pretty.

A key part of the renovation will be the thinning of the seats, allowing El Al to squeeze a few more bottoms onto each of its flights. As well as this, the carrier is abolishing first class, upgrading IFE systems and, notably, installing WiFi capabilities, which we now know to be provided through Viasat.

El AL 777
El Al’s 777s are being renovated throughout. Photo: Y5353 via Wikimedia

Nimrod Borovitz, vice president, Strategy and Business Development at EL AL commented,

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“We have a vision to serve our passengers and crew members with high-speed, reliable, enriching experiences when flying to and from major global destinations. We’ve enjoyed a partnership with Viasat, and are excited to have all of our aircraft supported by ViaSat-3—as we believe this will help us realize our vision to make our fleet fully connected. Our ongoing in-flight Wi-Fi investments will enable over time the more than 5 million passengers we fly annually to enjoy the internet how it’s supposed to be: great, engaging and available.”

Once the 777s are installed, Viasat will power every aircraft in the El Al fleet.

Forward compatible

The IFEC being added onboard the 777s will work right away with Viasat’s current satellite system. This uses ViaSat-1, -2 and Europe’s KA-SAT to provide coverage. Crucially, however, the system will be forward compatible with the ViaSat-3 constellation, which is not even due to start launching until 2021. A spokesperson for Viasat confirmed to Runway Girl Network,

“These aircraft will work effective immediately once installed on all of Viasat’s current Ka-band fleet and be forward compatible to our ViaSat-3 global platform.”

As pointed out by RGN, this is a huge endorsement of the future service from Viasat. The coverage gaps, particularly around the Asian and African regions, will be filled in eventually with the new ViaSat-3 constellation. Although El Al will have to wait some time to have seamless coverage on some of its routes, it undoubtedly benefitted from a tantalizing offer from Viasat for its bold installation of compatible hardware.

The first ViaSat-3 satellite is planned for launch in 2021, with the second following around six months later. By the second half of 2022, all three should be launched, providing better coverage across the EMEA region and Asia Pacific.

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