Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian has revealed in an interview that the airline held talks with SpaceX and conducted “exploratory tests” of Starlink’s internet technology for its planes. According to The Wall Street Journal, Bastian declined to divulge specifics about the test, but SpaceX exec Jonathan Hofeller talked about the company’s discussion with several airlines back in mid-2021. Hofeller said back then that the company was developing a product for aviation and that it’s already done some demonstrations for interested parties.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted in the same period last year that Starlink antennae for planes would have to be certified for each aircraft type first. He added that the company is focusing on dishes for 737 and A320 planes, because they serve the most number of people.
Hofeller reiterated SpaceX’s quest to put Starlink on planes at the Satellite 2022 conference last month, saying that the company believes “[c]onnectivity on airplanes is something [that’s] ripe for an overhaul.” He said SpaceX is developing a service that would allow every single passenger on a plane to stream content like they’re able to do in their homes.
SpaceX filed an application with the FCC in August last year for a ruggedized type of Starlink antenna that can withstand harsh environments meant for use on planes, ships and other types of moving vehicles. A couple of months later, another FCC filing had revealed that SpaceX was going to test the new “mobile user terminal” on an aircraft for six months.
Even though Delta had already tested Starlink’s technology, Summit Ridge Group (a consulting firm with expertise in satellite communications) founder J. Armand Musey told The Journal that it could take several years for SpaceX’s satellite broadband to see widespread adoption. It still has to schedule time with airlines to install terminals on their planes, after all, while more established competitors are also taking steps to improve their service.