Virgin Australia chooses Intelsat to provide inflight connectivity

Intelsat’s inflight connectivity service was recently selected for Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737 fleet. (Photo: Virgin Australia)

Virgin Australia recently selected Intelsat’s 2Ku satellite connectivity solution as part of an initiative to improve the passenger experience. The Inflight Connectivity Service (IFC) will be installed on Virgin Australia’s existing Boeing 737 NG fleet over the next 18 months. Intelsat’s solution will also be installed in 737 MAX aircraft delivered to Virgin Australia in the future.

“We will provide a streaming-quality, always-on and reliable in-flight Internet product onboard Virgin Australia’s fleet of 737 aircraft,” commented Dave Bijur, SVP of Intelsat Commercial Aviation, in response to the announcement. “We are adding 737 MAX aircraft for the first time with Virgin Australia, and they have made a technology decision that expands our relationship and will delight their guests.”

Bijur shared his thoughts on some of the industry’s biggest challenges during an interview with International Avionics at the recent APEX exhibition. “One of the big challenges for airlines is to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” he said. Achieving this goal “will require everyone in the airline supply chain to do things differently.”

“‘Greening’ in-flight connectivity is a priority for airlines and another big challenge and opportunity,” he added.

Bijur also commented on the rapid pace of innovation in the aviation industry, explaining that it can be difficult for airlines to know when to upgrade certain parts of an aircraft. It’s just not practical to change network infrastructure or hardware every few years. “Satcom communications, antennas, modems, wireless access points are all updating so quickly,” he said.

Airlines are particularly concerned about the weight of antennas and the drag they create. One of Intelsat’s latest updates is developing a smaller, lighter solution with less drag and no moving parts. “From a maintenance point of view, it will be much better – it stays on the plane longer,” Bijur noted.

The image above is a rendering of Intelsat-45, based on Swissto12’s HummingSat product line. (Photo: Swissto12)

One of the biggest innovations in the satellite industry is the electronically steered array antenna, or ESA. This is an improvement over the mechanically steered array. The new ESA antennas can connect to low earth orbit (LEO) constellations.

Intelsat has 50 geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites that are essentially stationed at the equator. Due to their position, they cannot provide road connectivity over the North Pole. Intelsat partners with OneWeb, which flies LEO satellites. In addition to providing coverage of the North Pole, LEO satellites also reduce latency because they are closer to Earth.

“Our strategy is to bring these two networks together because they both have advantages,” Bijur explained.

Intelsat announced this week that it will be the first commercial customer of the HummingSat product line from Swissto12, a Swiss-based startup. Intelsat has ordered the IS-45 satellite, which is scheduled for launch in 2025. It will offer Ku-band fixed satellite services to its customers. The HummingSat range is available in sizes three to ten times smaller than typical GEO satellites.

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