JetBlue Fly-Fi going gate-to-gate this spring

JetBlue’s Fly-Fi inflight Internet service is getting an upgrade in the next couple of months. With its position as the fastest connectivity solution in the US reasonably secure, the company – in cooperation with its provider ViaSat and integrator Thales – is now going to allow passengers to access the Ka-band satellite-supported service from gate-to-gate rather than only while above 10,000 feet.

The change was announced as part of the cabin product and IFE upgrades update the company issued yesterday, but will be implemented separately – and sooner – than those changes.

Kontron NOW - VIDEO Avionics_300x300_watchVideoThe original Fly-Fi deployment came just as the FAA was adjusting the rules about personal electronic device usage below 10,000 feet. In the intervening time the companies have been working to adjust the setup so that it can operate during the broader timeframe.

One challenge was ensuring that the onboard antenna and electronics would not overheat while operating on the ground versus at altitude where ambient temperatures are significantly lower.

The other major challenge was determining how to “trigger” the system to turn on and off as appropriate. Passing through a specific altitude works well as a trigger action; sitting idle on the ground does not. JetBlue is now satisfied with the solutions to these challenges and expects to roll out the necessary software upgrade to the more than 160 aircraft flying with the hardware today, hopefully in Q2 2016.

Southwest Airlines is the only other airline in the US market currently flying with gate-to-gate connectivity, using the Global Eagle Entertainment Ku-band solution. Gogo has demonstrated its 2Ku platform also offering gate-to-gate connectivity on its 737 flying testbed; presumably it will be deployed that way when it goes live on commercial aircraft as well.

With more than 70% of ASMs in the US market now offering connectivity of some sort (per the most recent RouteHappy in-flight wifi study) consumers are shifting from simply wanting that connection to wanting more of it, including faster performance. This evolution of the Fly-Fi system brings a significant chunk of the carrier’s ASMs into the gate-to-gate realm, a nice upgrade for JetBlue’s passengers.