SpaceX has inked its first deal with an air carrier to provide in-flight wireless Internet using the Starlink satellite network, the space company said on Thursday as it jockeys with other burgeoning satellite firms to put high-speed internet on commercial airlines.
The company, owned by Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, has been in talks for months with airlines to provide Starlink Internet in-flight, a key prong in SpaceX’s strategy to scoop up enterprise customers beyond consumers and households in rural areas of the globe with little to no internet access.
The deal is with semi-private jet service JSX and involves equipping 100 airplanes with Starlink terminals, with the first Starlink-connected plane taking flight by year’s end, the charter company said in a statement.
A JSX spokesperson declined to disclose the value of the partnership.
It comes as the CEO of US carrier Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian revealed in a recent interview that the company was conducting exploratory tests to use Starlink technology on their aircraft.
SpaceX has launched some 2,000 Starlink satellites to low-Earth orbit since 2019 and, though the network is not yet fully deployed, offers broadband internet service to thousands of customers in a handful of countries for $110 (€101) a month using a $599 (€553) terminal dish roughly the size of a pizza box.
Starlink deployed in Ukraine
Starlink has been primarily positioned as a provider of Internet access to remote or rural areas currently not connected to broadband services. SpaceX made headlines in recent weeks when it supplied Starlink terminals to the Ukrainian government amid the ongoing Russian invasion.
Ukraine’s vice prime minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov appealed directly to Musk on Twitter to provide terminals to supplement the country’s disrupted Internet services.
SpaceX has sought regulatory approval from the US Federal Communications Commission to operate Starlink on airplanes and shipping vessels and had previously tested the internet network on a handful of Gulfstream jets, as well as military aircraft.
The Starlink service on JSX planes will come at no charge to JSX customers, the jet service said in its statement, adding it will “not require logging in or other complexities associated with legacy systems”.
Musk has previously said he wants to launch a constellation of around 42,000 satellites as part of the Starlink system in the future.