JetBlue In-Flight WiFi to Extend Across Entire Fleet

Budget airline JetBlue and ViaSat sign an agreement to bring in-flight WiFi to JetBlue's fleet by 2012.

Low-cost airline JetBlue Airways and satellite and wireless communications specialist ViaSat announced their intent to create inflight broadband for commercial aviation across the entire JetBlue fleet, using ViaSat's high-capacity satellite technology. JetBlue and ViaSat have completed the non-binding memorandum of understanding with the intent of signing a definitive agreement before the end of this calendar year.

ViaSat and JetBlue have entered into a MOU for the provision of in-flight broadband access and other services for customers on JetBlue's fleet of more than 160 aircraft using ViaSat advanced Ka-band satellites. Under the arrangement, ViaSat will provide Ka-band antenna components and SurfBeam(R)2 modems for installation on the airline's EMBRAER E190 and Airbus A320 aircraft types along with two-way transmission bandwidth services using the WildBlue-1 and high-capacity ViaSat-1 satellites. JetBlue subsidiary, LiveTV LLC, will manage the integration of the ViaSat broadband and related components onboard the aircraft as well as providing the WiFi enabled services into the overall cabin experience.

"This system will be designed for the 21st century, not just for today's personal connectivity needs, but with the bandwidth to expand to meet tomorrow's needs as well," said Dave Barger, JetBlue's CEO. "In just the three years since we launched BetaBlue, the first commercial aircraft with simple messaging capability, technology has advanced by generations. Rather than invest in current technology, designed to transmit broadcast video and audio, we elected to partner with ViaSat to create broadband functionality worthy of today's interactive personal technology needs."

LiveTV, a subsidiary of JetBlue, will install and lead the certification process of the new system. Barger said because the product will be the first of its kind for commercial aviation, the system must be tested, and certificated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), prior to installation fleet-wide. JetBlue and ViaSat said they expect the first installations to occur by mid-2012. Further, ViaSat and LiveTV intend to partner to bring the same Ka-band satellite broadband services to the airline industry, including to LiveTV's existing customer base of airlines.

"Combining LiveTV's expertise in entertainment and content management with ViaSat's satellite technology means we can create products and services for airline customers that are unparalleled in the industry today," said Glenn Latta, LiveTV's president.

"JetBlue is the perfect partner to introduce our next generation ViaSat-1 broadband network to the commercial aviation market," said Mark Dankberg, ViaSat CEO and chairman. "JetBlue is famous for customer service and in-flight entertainment. The breakthrough bandwidth economics of ViaSat-1 extends the passenger Internet experience beyond just e-mail and web pages and creates a world of possibilities for personalized broadband entertainment. This is exactly the type of application and user experience that we believe will help transform the satellite broadband industry."

American Air, Delta, Alaska Air, Virign Airlines and United Airlines currently offer WiFi on some or all of their domestic flights. Virgin America was the first airline in the country to offer its customers Wi-Fi on every flight. Service is provided by Aircell's Gogo In-flight Internet service. Gogo is powered by the Aircell air-to-ground system, which uses three small antennas installed outside the aircraft and connects to Aircell's exclusive nationwide mobile broadband network.

Virgin's service is available for $12.95 for daytime flights of over three hours, $9.95 for daytime flights of less than three hours, $5.95 on red-eye flights and $7.95 for handheld devices. The pricing is identical to that offered by competing airlines such as American Airlines, which also offers a tiered plan based on length of flight.