Inflight WiFi is coming to airBaltic. The carrier will fit its fleet of A220-300 aircraft with the SpaceX Starlink system, providing complimentary internet services in the sky.
Soon airBaltic will become the first airline in Europe to launch high-speed, unlimited, and free-of-charge satellite internet on board. We are excited to further improve our service to our passengers who will soon benefit from this internet connectivity onboard our flights within the airBaltic network in Europe and beyond.– Martin Gauss, Chief Executive Officer of airBaltic
The service will take advantage of SpaceX’s constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites to deliver high speed service to travelers.
CEO Martin Gauss first teased the idea of a Starlink install on the fleet in Summer 2022, bypassing formal RFPs and negotiations with a tweet.
Just seven months later the company has a deal in place to install the system on board. And, while terms were not released, based on Gauss’s prior comments it would seem the cost to airBaltic is dramatically lower than what other providers proposed.
Speaking at the company’s headquarters in Riga last June, Gauss offered plenty of observations as to why the legacy solutions would not fly in his fleet:
- “Viasat was supposed to come with something more meaningful. We’re still waiting.”
- “We can buy from Panasonic from the factory. There’s a price to it. We looked at it and said no.”
- Inmarsat’s hybrid ATG/s-Band satellite solution “EAN would work. But have you seen the cost? We cannot make that work.”
How airBaltic will convert that complimentary service – even with the lower costs – to be revenue positive remains unclear. Gauss previously explained, “The business case is the main thing. I want internet connectivity, but I’m not doing it like many other airlines, bringing something on board that costs us a lot of money and doesn’t deliver to the passengers.” He was also clear that a broadband connection is critical, not just a messaging solution, even if that is dramatically less expensive.
Read more: JSX now online with SpaceX Starlink
At the same time, however, Gauss was not keen on deploying a capture portal and controlling the customer experience, one approach airlines typically have taken to drive incremental revenue from the systems. “I don’t want a portal where I have to collect all your data. I want a single pop-up to buy a pass.” Gauss continues, “I want to offer internet connectivity so passengers can do uninterrupted working or be on social media. For people today, I think it is more important to be on social media, whether it is LinkedIn or TikTok.”
Similarly, shifting crew messaging to the broadband link was not initially in the plans. That could, of course, change as the service matures.
“By becoming the first European airline to implement Starlink fleetwide, airBaltic is setting a new standard in ensuring its passengers have an internet experience that they have come to expect in our modern age,” said SpaceX Vice President of Starlink Sales Jonathan Hofeller. “With Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency internet, airBaltic passengers will have internet similar to or better than what they experience at home. Customers will walk on the plane and the internet will simply work, making the stress of login pages and downloading large files before takeoff a thing of the past.”
Most of airBaltic’s route network across Europe can be served by the Starlink system today. Flights to the Middle East may not have the service for the full duration, however, as coverage and landing rights continue to develop.
AirBaltic is the third airline to announce a service deal with Starlink. JSX brought its first aircraft online in late 2022, while Hawaiian Airlines continues to work towards certification of the hardware on board. Similar to the other two airlines, airBaltic will work with SpaceX to develop the necessary regulatory approval for the hardware on its aircraft. The companies expect installations to begin later this year.
During the conversation with Gauss last summer it seemed more likely that service would not launch until 2024. Seeing the companies get this aggressive with the service plan is good news for passengers.
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