Recently American Airlines reminded the investor community that it was investing heavily in its product offering, including fitting its international fleet with wifi connectivity. Of course, there is good and bad in that announcement. The good is that more connectivity is coming in the not-too-distant future. The bad is that it reminds us just how far behind the competition American is. So, what do the numbers for wifi on international flights look like as of the end of January 2015?
United Airlines leads the pack with about 40% of its long-haul fleet fitted for wifi on international flights including all aircraft on at least three sub-fleets (747-400, sCO 777-200 & 787-9). Delta Air Lines is not too far behind with just under 30% of the fleet completed (747-400 fleet is 100%). Delta also has far fewer planes which need fitting with the international kit than either United or American Airlines do. American brings up the rear with only about 10% of the fleet fitted (100% of 777-300ER & 787s completed).
Of course, United’s lead on the international front is somewhat tempered by its lag in fitting the domestic fleet. Fortunately the carrier is nearing the end of its efforts to close that gap. It does still trail both Delta and American but it is getting the mainline and 70-seat RJ fleet done at a reasonable pace these days; much like the international fleet it is expected that the domestic fleet will be completed by mid-2015. And United’s “domestic” Airbus planes have a satellite-based system which does work for the regional international trips those planes occasionally take. The 737s also feature a satellite-based solution but is it limited to roughly CONUS coverage until 2016 when ViaSat-2 launches, expanding coverage to the Caribbean and the northern edge of South America.
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It is worth noting that Gogo reports plans for ~500 aircraft to be fitted in 2015. Many of those will be United and American RJs but a decent chunk (~100) should be Delta‘s international aircraft. Gogo has the necessary STCs to fit all of Delta’s long-haul planes and has previously announced that it expects completion of the fleet connectivity fitting at some point in 2016. Similarly, United Airlines has stated it expects to have the international installations mostly complete by mid-2015; the only uncertainty is the 11 initial 787-8 deliveries which will need to be retrofit. United is running multiple install lines for each aircraft type right now, completing the bulk of its installs during the winter where fleet utilization is lower. American has talked about retrofits to add wifi on international flights but has not released much in the way of hard data regarding timing for the installation on its long-haul fleet. Indications are that it will take years, not months to complete.
While it does not affect the three US carriers as much – none of the three have committed to the service – Inmarsat successfully launched the F-2 satellite earlier this month. This is the second of three satellites needed to support high speed, Ka-band connectivity with a global footprint. The F-2 satellite covers the Americas and the Atlantic ocean; the F-1 satellite which entered service last July covers Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. The final piece of the constellation will launch later this spring, at which point the company will begin connecting commercial airline customers to the system and providing seamless global connectivity.
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