JetBlue signs deal for satellite onboard Wi-Fi for all planes in fleet

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

JetBlue signs deal for satellite onboard Wi-Fi

NEW YORK — JetBlue said Wednesday it signed a deal to install satellite broadband Internet and TV service on its fleet of 160 planes.

The airline is partnering with telecommunications company ViaSat Inc. to begin installing the service by the end of 2012. The system must be tested and certified by the Federal Aviation Administration before the airline can roll it out on all of its planes.

JetBlue didn’t say how much the new system would cost. Airline Wi-Fi expert Michael Planey estimates hardware and infrastructure will cost about $15 to $20 million.

JetBlue currently has TV on its flights but does not offer Wi-Fi.

AirTran and Virgin America already have Wi-Fi on their planes. Delta Air Lines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. expect to have fleet-wide Wi-Fi by the time the first JetBlue aircraft has it.

JetBlue’s system could eventually allow the airline to keep passengers more informed of changes on the ground, and possibly reroute them while they’re still in the air if there are delays or other issues. It also opens the door for more selling opportunities onboard, through a passengers personal TV screen, smartphone or laptop.

So far wireless Internet service on airlines hasn’t caught on with a large number of passengers, mostly because of the price, which ranges from $4.95 to $12.95 depending on the airline and length of the flight. Travelers are saving their Web surfing for solid ground, where some airport “hot spots” offer the service free.

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