Los Angeles, CA – In just two decades, inflight internet has evolved from a rare luxury to an indispensable amenity for air travelers. However, the perennial challenge has been sluggish speed and spotty connectivity, primarily due to the reliance on air-to-ground connections. These connections depend on signals transmitted from cell towers, resulting in often frustratingly slow internet speeds, usually peaking at around 10Mbps.

Recognizing the demand for faster and more reliable inflight internet, providers have increasingly turned to satellite-based solutions, offering passengers speeds ranging from 30Mbps to 100Mbps. Now, tech maverick Elon Musk’s SpaceX is aiming to make a seismic impact on the airline industry by utilizing his growing constellation of broadband internet satellites, known as Starlink.

SpaceX’s Starlink constellation currently comprises nearly 5,000 satellites, with plans to expand this number to a staggering 42,000. In contrast, communications company Viasat, which supplies inflight internet services to major carriers like JetBlue, United Airlines, and American Airlines, operates a fleet of just four satellites.

SpaceX launched “Starlink Aviation” on October 18, 2022, a branch of Starlink designed specifically for aircraft. Presently, Starlink Aviation is available on select Gulfstream models, while compatibility with popular aircraft like Airbus A320, A330, and various Boeing models is projected to be established “in 2024 and beyond,” according to SpaceX.

While the timeline for widespread adoption remains uncertain, Elon Musk exudes confidence in the future of Starlink internet on commercial airlines. “Starlink will be available on most aircraft soon, depending on whether the airline orders it,” he tweeted on October 9.

Starlink Aviation is expected to cost airlines $25,000 per month, in addition to a hardware fee of $150,000. This investment promises download speeds ranging from 40-220Mbps, a significant leap from traditional inflight internet.

Inflight connectivity has emerged as a lucrative market, with a valuation of approximately $5 billion in 2021, according to Verified Market Research. The same research firm predicts that the market will exceed $12 billion by 2030. As of last year, both Delta and United reported hosting around 1.5 million inflight internet sessions monthly.

Hawaiian Airlines took a pioneering step by becoming the first major carrier to adopt Starlink for its Airbus A330 and A321neo aircraft. While other major airlines have yet to announce their intentions to embrace Musk’s Starlink services, Hawaiian Airlines’ President and CEO, Peter Ingram, emphasized the value of the technology, stating, “When we launch with Starlink, we will have the best connectivity experience available in the air. We waited until technology caught up with our high standards for guest experience, but it will be worth the wait.”

It’s important to note that Elon Musk and his Starlink satellites have faced criticism and scrutiny, particularly for their role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, this hasn’t deterred Musk’s pursuit of improving the inflight internet experience for air travelers worldwide.

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