Latvian airline airBaltic will outfit its entire fleet of Airbus A220 aircraft with SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet connectivity system, giving passengers complimentary, high-speed internet on all flights.
Over the next year, the Riga-based carrier will become the first European airline to roll out the Starlink system on its planes. Developed by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX, Starlink uses a network of 3,300 small satellites in low Earth orbit: at an altitude of 550 km—65 times closer than conventional geostationary satellites.
The internet delivered by those traditional satellites has long been slow and hampered by high latency (lag). But Starlink’s low-altitude satellites provide internet connectivity with performance comparable to much ground-based internet infrastructure.
Starlink has made its internet available to consumers in 45 countries and, in December, celebrated signing up its millionth subscriber.
In autumn, it also unveiled its offering for commercial airlines. The American company says aircraft outfitted with its terminals can receive internet speeds up to 350 Megabits per second (Mbps) and latency as low as 20 milliseconds (ms). With those specs, data-intensive activities such as online gaming and VPNs that were once unthinkable on planes are possible.
airBaltic won’t charge passengers to use the internet service and won’t cap their usage. They also won’t face log-in pages. Instead, from the minute they step on the plane, “the internet will simply work,” said Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink sales at SpaceX.
Martin Gauss, CEO of airBaltic, coined it as “a historic moment for our airline and the industry as a whole.”
“Soon, airBaltic will become the first airline in Europe to launch high-speed, unlimited, 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,” Gauss said.
“Having the most modern aircraft type on the market, it was the next logical step for airBaltic to implement the most modern available inflight internet solution on this fleet,” he added.
According to Hofeller, the Latvian carrier sets “a new standard in ensuring its passengers have an internet experience that they have come to expect in our modern age.”
Delta Air Lines announced in early January it will offer free Wi-Fi connectivity. airBaltic is following suit, offering internet connectivity to its passengers from the moment they step foot onboard until they arrive at the gate at their destination—the first airline in Europe to do so.
airBaltic is actively working with SpaceX to obtain the Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approval for Starlink from the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and will begin installing the system on its planes this year.
airBaltic operates a fleet of 39 Airbus A220-300s, flying from the Baltic region to over 70 destinations in Europe, the Middle East, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).