Commercial airlines will soon have another option for in-flight connectivity (IFC) delivered via low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Intelsat secured a global distribution partnership with OneWeb, allowing for the development of a multi-orbit offering to deliver the best combination of performance, coverage and reliability on the market. The partnership builds on Intelsat’s extensive IFC experience and existing geo-stationary (GEO) satellite service, augmented with the OneWeb LEO constellation.
The hybrid service offering further allows the global airline community to plan their suite of next-generation onboard services with confidence – not only ensuring a future-proofed passenger inflight connectivity experience, but also the implementation of a connected airline digitalization strategy.– Jeff Sare, Intelsat’s President, Commercial Aviation
The deal comes as anything but a surprise, other than perhaps the timing. After snagging a pair of distribution partners (Gogo, Satcom Direct) for business aviation earlier this year, expectations were high for OneWeb to announce similar deals for commercial aviation at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg two months ago. Alas, corporate contracts do not always adhere to the trade show timelines.
Still, Intelsat showed off a mockup of the electronically steered phased array antenna system it will be trialing later this year for connecting to OneWeb satellites during the show. It was only a matter of time before the deal was announced.
“This is a watershed moment for the inflight connectivity market, and we’re excited to work together with Intelsat to bring our multi-orbit solution to commercial aviation. We’re committed to delivering the most differentiated and innovative solution for airlines” said Ben Griffin, OneWeb Vice President, Mobility Services. “We are proving that, through the power of partnership, a superior suite of multi-orbit capabilities can be offered to better serve the growing connectivity needs of the commercial aviation industry, delivering the highest value coupled with the lowest risk.”
Unlike the deals Starlink announced with Hawaiian Airlines and JSX earlier this year, the Intelsat/OneWeb partnership offers a multi-orbit solution rather than a LEO-only option. This hybrid approach is one Griffin has long endorsed, “to defuse some of that perceived risk, even though we don’t see it as a risk.” With deals like this in play OneWeb sees an opening to improve adoption of the technology by airlines with existing connectivity solutions.
By augmenting its existing satellite services, Intelsat can reduce or fully remove gaps in IFC coverage or capacity – even at busy hubs, across oceans and over polar routes. Intelsat will seamlessly manage connectivity, allowing passengers to remain connected no matter where they fly.
OneWeb and Stellar Blu have been testing an antenna terminal designed for commercial aircraft, with test flights running since May 2022. PaxEx.Aero understands, however, that the design currently in flight tests differs from what Intelsat intends to use for its initial airline partners.
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The companies expect the multi-orbit solution to be in service by 2024.
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