Hughes Network Systems, which is an EchoStar company, announced that Delta Air Lines selected the Hughes In-Flight connectivity solution to power passenger Wi-Fi on more than 400 Boeing 717 and regional jets serving North America.
The program got underway months ago but they’re just now announcing it. Installations on aircraft are expected to begin in the second quarter of 2024.
Hughes VP Reza Rasoulian said Hughes was selected by Delta after a rigorous round of testing that involved multiple players.
One of the major tenets of the win was to make sure Hughes had enough quality capacity at scale to meet Delta’s stringent Service Level Agreement (SLA) requirements, he said. It’s the first direct-to-airline in-flight connectivity (IFC) deal for Hughes.
“It’s going very, very well,” Rasoulian said. “There are a lot of smarts in our system to make sure that passengers can experience a reliable and responsive in-flight connectivity experience, even over busy airport hubs, which is extremely important.”
Earlier this year, Delta and T-Mobile announced SkyMiles members on Delta, regardless of wireless provider, would get free Wi-Fi on their flights. Rasoulian described Hughes as an enabler to make those kinds of marketing programs happen.
“Ultimately, we’re enabling a frictionless passenger experience on board,” where historically, it’s challenging to get and stay connected on flights involving regional jets.
It’s a multi-orbit solution involving Hughes Jupiter Ka-band satellite capacity. It’s also forward-compatible with the Hughes Jupiter 3 ultra high-density satellite, the largest commercial communications satellite ever built, that launched in July and that will enter service later this year.
At CES 2023, Delta announced free Wi-Fi for customers, with plans to equip all aircraft with streaming-quality Wi-Fi, including regional aircraft, by the end of 2024. All of Delta’s mainline aircraft, with the exception of 717s, are being equipped with Viasat, and its regional aircraft and 717s are being equipped with Hughes, a Delta spokesperson confirmed.
More than 600 mainline aircraft are currently equipped with Viasat and offering free Wi-Fi for customers. Any aircraft that have not yet received a retrofit are equipped with Intelsat/Gogo.
It’s a long way from the days when Gogo dominated – and disappointed – the skies for in-flight Wi-Fi.
Rasoulian said Delta set the bar very high for an exceptional Wi-Fi experience.
“I think airlines globally are looking for innovative, agile service providers that are vertically integrated” like Hughes, he said.