A Hawaiian Airlines A321 aircraft with Starlink WiFi installed.
Hawaiian Airlines is rolling out complimentary Wi-Fi via SpaceX’s Starlink on board commercial flights this week, the companies told CNBC, the first major U.S. airline to offer the satellite-based service.
“SpaceX has really cracked the code – literally, in terms of the technology – to be able to deliver a wide bandwidth of very high quality connectivity to an airplane with a global reach,” Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines CEO, told CNBC.
Hawaiian’s plan for complimentary Wi-Fi comes as airlines ramp up their offerings for high-speed connectivity. JetBlue Airways offers Wi-Fi on board for free, and last year Delta Air Lines launched onboard internet free of charge for members of its loyalty program, after years of planning.
Hawaiian has an extensive network of flights over the Pacific Ocean, serving the mainland U.S., Japan, Australia and New Zealand, among other destinations, from Hawaii.
“It really feels like an experience that should not be possible when you get on a commercial airline flight. And you’re able to connect to the internet and experience it in a way that’s similar, if not better, than what you can experience in your own home,” Chad Gibbs, SpaceX’s vice president of Starlink business operations, told CNBC.
“We now have a totally different paradigm, which is that we have incredible amounts of capacity and bandwidth that we can bring to the plane,” Gibbs added.
Hawaiian signed an agreement with SpaceX in April 2022, looking to utilize the Starlink network – which consists of more than 5,000 satellites in low Earth orbit and boasts more than 2.3 million customers worldwide. The airline didn’t previously offer inflight Wi-Fi.
A Starlink terminal installed on a Hawaiian Airlines aircraft.
The companies did not disclose the deal’s value or how much it costs to install each of the aviation-specific Starlink terminals on a commercial aircraft.
Ingram emphasized, however, that “the costs of this have gone down from what the early Wi-Fi systems were.” He noted Hawaiian is “actively” installing Starlink terminals, with six completed on its Airbus A321 planes so far.
In total, Hawaiian expects to add Starlink to 18 of the A321 jets and 24 of its A330 aircraft later this year.
“We think it is really going to set an entirely new standard for connectivity on airplanes,” Ingram said.
The companies originally planned to begin installing the Starlink terminals last year, but Ingram said that SpaceX needed to launch more next-generation Starlink satellites and receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration before installation could begin.
SpaceX has been steadily pursuing the licenses needed for a wide variety of aircraft. It’s received certification for smaller jets, with semi-private charter JSX beginning to use the service in late 2022.
“To date Starlink has been used on over 30,000 flights, on flights across the U.S. and around the world,” Gibbs said.
In addition to Hawaiian, SpaceX has announced Starlink inflight Wi-Fi deals with Latvia’s airBaltic, Japan’s Zipair and Qatar Airways.
The addition of Starlink service comes to Hawaiian shortly after the airline struck a deal late last year to be acquired by Alaska Airlines in a $1.9 billion deal.
— CNBC’s Leslie Josephs contributed to this report.