Flight Online: Intelsat and Airbus Revolutionising In-flight Connectivity

Aircraft and Innovation
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
December 8, 2021

Early in 2021, satellite technology firm Intelsat acquired two OneSat satellites from Airbus for its fleet. Set to apply the cutting edge tech to commercial aviation, the firm is preparing to revamp onboard wifi services, offering travellers better services at a lower cost for airlines.

Set for delivery in 2023, the satellites will draw inspiration from Airbus’ OneSat range; the latest models of fully flexible, mid-orbit reconfigurable, Software Defined Satellites (SDS). They are initiated to integrate high performance and granted flexibility whilst upholding Airbus’ product reliability. In a press release by Airbus, ​​Jean-Marc Nasr, Head of Airbus Space Systems commented, “This important contract with our long-standing and valued partner Intelsat, has a special significance for Airbus. With six satellites now in production - plus options - for three major operators, OneSat has proven that when it comes to fully reconfigurable satellites, Airbus is the winning choice. Our new industrial capabilities put in place at our sites across Europe, together with our solid experience in Eurostar geostationary satellites and mega-constellation manufacturing, will enable production of our truly disruptive OneSats at an unrivalled pace.”

`The move is a step forward for the enterprise after it became the top provider of in-flight connectivity upon its acquisition of Gogo Commercial Aviation for $400 million in December 2020. As SDS vessels are cheaper to produce and operate than current aviation internet applications, in a transition similar to mobile phone connectivity experienced in the early 2000s, passengers can soon see optimum connections with increased stability at a significantly lower price

Speaking with Simple Flying, President of the Intelstat Commercial Division John Wade said "We’re on the cusp of a very exciting period of satellite evolution, which is going to really take passenger IFC connectivity to the next generation of where we’ve been in the past. Until now, almost every network you put up is relatively static – capacity, coverage cannot change. In the software defined world, you can, in real time, put capacity where it’s needed. So the networks become very dynamic.”

Amongst its perks, the technology will permit an efficient distribution of internet capacity between aircraft depending on size, passenger numbers and flight distance. In addition the fact that the satellites give airlines the option to customise apps and program new configurations making them highly utile in the long term.

Other technologies on the horizon from IntelSat include providing users with fully integrated 5G connectivity mid-flight with no additional costs to their subscription plans. As Wade puts it, “When you get on an airplane, your phone will discover an Intelsat access point, and will treat it just like a cellular access point. That means users can have the service bundled with their bill, if they’re already paying for International service, or they’ll be able to opt to pay $2 or $3 for access to the streaming quality services for the duration of the fight.”

As Eways Aviation is a key provider of on-board connectivity, we applaud this new era of WiFi technology conceived by industry leaders, and the improved experience it will bring to the aviation sector worldwide.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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