Norwegian on 737 MAX wifi – it’s more technical than that


Norwegian is quite an interesting case study when it comes to inflight Wi-Fi. It has long been a Global Eagle Ku customer for its sizable 737NG fleet, but never quite completed the rollout. Before its first 787-9 came off the Boeing line, Norwegian told media the twinjet would be line-fit equipped with Internet. It wasn’t, and the carrier’s 787s still fly disconnected to this day. Now that Norwegian’s first 737 MAX aircraft are rolling off the Renton production line, the opposite questions are being asked – What’s under the radome?

In 2016, Inmarsat announced it had been selected to offer Global Xpress Ka-band connectivity services “by a leading short and long-haul European airline” which everyone had assumed was Norwegian, an assumption later confirmed by terminal unit maker Honeywell and integrator Rockwell Collins. The deal is for more than 125 new (but unspecified) aircraft, which is about the number of 737 MAX 8 and A321neoLR jets that Norwegian has on order.

As far as your author is able to deduce, Inmarsat’s GX system is still not offered as a line-fit option from Boeing for the 737 program. Interestingly, however, Norwegian’s first pair of brand new 737 MAX 8 aircraft have an antenna radome hump, raising all sorts of unanswered questions.

Norwegian has been insistent that its 737 MAXs will not offer Wi-Fi upon entry into service. “It is correct that the 737-MAX will not be Wi-Fi equipped when we launch the service, but we aim to be able to offer it within a year from now,” said Anders Lindström, Norwegian’s director of communications, USA. “However, you are correct that they do look like they are equipped, but in this case it’s more technical than that,” Lindström continued.

Follow-up inquiries gleaned the following from the Norwegian spokesman: “The new MAXes will have partial Wi-Fi provision, which is the visible radome, from Boeing, but the system is not yet certified by Boeing. And that’s sadly all I can share as the rest is not yet official, sorry about that.” Rockwell Collins did not provide comment, deferring to Boeing. GEE did not respond to a request for comment.

It now appears clear that Norwegian will be flying sans antenna hardware for the time being. While this would decrease install time down the road, Norwegian will be operating these 737s with all the increased drag of a Wi-Fi radome, but with none of the benefits of actual offering connectivity. On a separate note, Boeing has temporarily suspended test flights of the MAX due to a “quality issue” with the CFM LEAP 1B engines.

Photo at top credited to Boeing.