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Air New Zealand to Trial Starlink WiFi on Domestic Flights

The Kiwi carrier will roll out SpaceX's Starlink from 2025, powered by low Earth orbit satellites

December 18, 2023

Photo: Business Class, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy of Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand will offer complimentary in-flight internet access on domestic flights starting in 2025, thanks to the SpaceX Starlink satellite network.

The airline will conduct a four to six-month trial of the Starlink service on two aircraft, an ATR 72 turboprop regional aircraft and an Airbus A320, beginning in late 2024. If the trial is successful, Air New Zealand will retrofit all its remaining domestic fleet with Starlink terminals from late 2025 onwards.

Photo: Air New Zealand, ATR72. Courtesy of Will Waters / Unsplash

Air New Zealand currently offers free WiFi on its international flights, powered by Vista’s GX technology. The popularity of that service convinced the carrier to extend the service to domestic travelers, taking advantage of Starlink’s smaller terminals (antennas).

“Our free and accessible WiFi onboard international flights has proved incredibly popular among customers, so we can’t wait to bring connectivity to domestic flights,” said Nikhil Ravishanka, Air New Zealand’s Chief Digital Officer.

Starlink’s more nimble terminals (antennas) allow airlines to bring high-speed internet to smaller planes, such as the Embraer 145. However, Air New Zealand is the first in the world to install high-speed internet on a turboprop plane.

Starlink, a venture of Elon Musk’s spacecraft company SpaceX, delivers internet with a constellation of hundreds of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The satellites orbit the earth at 550 kilometers (342 miles), 65 times closer than conventional geostationary satellites.

Photo: Courtesy of Anirudh / Unsplash

These low-altitude satellites beam internet connections to aircraft with lasers, delivering WiFi without the glacial speeds and high latency (lag) of typical satellite internet.

Starlink claims its internet reaches speeds of 350Mbps, with latency as low as 20 milliseconds, comparable with ground-based fiber-optic connections. For airline passengers, that means connections quick enough for streaming, surfing the web, and instant messaging.

“We’re always looking at how new and innovative technology can deliver improved customer experiences, and with the world’s largest satellite constellation, exploring in-motion connectivity on our aircraft with Starlink was a no-brainer,” Ravishanka said.

Jason Fritch, a Starlink Vice President, said: “We’re proud to work with Air New Zealand to bring Starlink’s high-speed internet to their aircraft and extend this game-changing in-flight connectivity experience to more passengers around the world.”

Photo: Premium Economy, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Courtesy of Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand is the latest carrier to bring Starlink onboard its planes following the launch. Hawaiian Airlines was the first major airline to announce its partnership with Starlink in the spring of 2022, although the launch of the service has been delayed to the beginning of next year.

Latvian carrier airBaltic is the first European carrier to embrace Starlink and is installing the system across its entire fleet of Airbus A220s. It will reportedly flip the switch on the service next year.

Tokyo-based ZIPAIR is also working on installing Starlink hardware, and Qatar Airways has also announced its partnership with the company but hasn’t revealed when its Starlink-powered internet will go live.

Delta undertook exploratory testing of Starlink’s system in the United States in 2022 before choosing Viasat to provide its industry-leading free WiFi on domestic flights.