We are literally just months away from Hawaiian Airlines’ launch of its highly touted Starlink Wifi. And BOH editor Jeff, for one, can’t wait. He’s traveling to and from the mainland this week, and he’s already missing the connectivity he normally finds on every other carrier he flies from and to Hawaii.
Last week there was the first major demonstration of the Starlink satellite system and what it will deliver to Hawaii flights. That includes YouTube, Netflix, and video chat over the Pacific Ocean at 30,000 feet. To prove the functionality, SpaceX’s Starlink just held a media demo flight on U.S. regional airline JSX. They were the first airline to sign on with Starlink service and were followed quickly by Hawaiian.
The test flight was from Burbank to San Jose, which was just under an hour, to prove they could outdo the current inflight WiFi from carriers Viasat and Intelsat. Those companies, plus others, already have more than 10,000 airliner installations. That market is set to triple soon.
If this all works as planned, internet functionality on airlines will get far better than what we have experienced to date. Especially on flights to and from Hawaii.
Will Starlink be adequate to support 189-301 passenger Hawaiian airplanes?
Starlink delivers WiFi via a virtual constellation of small low-altitude satellites. The signals are said to be more robust with less latency (lag). On the other hand, the Starlink satellites have less bandwidth capability, and others are questioning if that could become an issue. How many will be in a given area to support Hawaiian’s fleet?
Aside: you can see Starlink satellite in your area by going to the findstarlink.com website.
Given that the WiFi will be 100% free to use on Hawaiian Airlines, can the Starlink satellites support their A321 planes with 189 passengers, A330 planes with 278 passengers, and upcoming 787 planes with 301 passengers? We’ll know soon enough.
As a reminder, Hawaiian has not announced plans to bring WiFi to their interisland fleet. Southwest does offer satellite WiFi both interisland and trans-Pacific to and from Hawaii. It comes, however, with an $8 cost, and it wasn’t working well on Jeff’s Southwest review flight.
During last week’s Starlink test flight, performance was good and recorded at more than 100mbs download speed. The simulated demand was equivalent to up to 30 passengers onboard. That’s a far shot from 301 passengers, however. The demo included the use of video chat, YouTube, and Netflix, plus less intensive web browsing and email.
Recently, US regulators said that Starlink’s “still developing technology” is too new when it rejected their request for a nearly $1B government subsidy. The company said, however, that the rejection was unfair and didn’t adequately consider Starlink’s performance once their network is completed. The company also cited the agreement with Hawaiian as proof that the airline industry believes in the product.
Which airlines are onboard Starlink WiFi?
Starlink announced both the JSX and Hawaiian Airlines agreements this past spring. According to reports, the four biggest US airlines all rejected Starlink previously. A few months ago, Delta Airlines’ CEO said they were considering Starlink. There was, however, no further announcement which leads us to conclude that a deal never materialized.
So in some ways, both JSX and Hawaiian will be the make-it-or-break-it proof that Starlink needs at this point. Thereafter, there are countless aircraft across all the US airlines that will be ready for an upgrade. We suspect Hawaiian may have gotten a sweetheart deal to get them to be the first big airline partner to sign on.
Frontier Airlines is also said to be in discussions about adding Starlink WiFi, according to their CEO last week. That company, like Hawaiian, currently offers no WiFi.