FlySafair could add Wi-Fi services using Starlink

South African airline FlySafair is exploring ways to bring high-speed Wi-Fi to its domestic flights. While traditional satellite internet has limitations for airplanes, FlySafair sees promise in SpaceX’s Starlink Aviation service.

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Current in-flight Wi-Fi relies on geosynchronous (GEO) satellites orbiting at a high distance. These satellites offer poor internet quality – slow speeds and high latency (delay) – due to the vast distance from the plane. Additionally, installing the bulky equipment required for GEO internet can negatively impact aircraft performance and resale value.

Fortunately, for FlySafair, shorter domestic flight times in South Africa mean passengers have less need for constant connectivity compared to long international flights.

FlySafair is looking at Starlink Aviation, a business service from SpaceX, as a potential solution. Starlink utilizes a network of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites offering significantly faster speeds and lower latency than GEO options. Speeds advertised for Starlink Aviation range from 40Mbps to 220Mbps download and 8Mbps to 25Mbps upload – a substantial leap in performance.

Several international airlines using Starlink Aviation have reported excellent results. Speeds reaching 200Mbps have been documented, exceeding internet speeds available in many homes.

Despite the promising technology, hurdles need to be cleared before Starlink Aviation takes off in South Africa.

  • Regulatory Approval: Similar to its land-based service, Starlink Aviation requires approval from South African telecoms authorities.
  • Aircraft Compatibility: Currently, the Starlink Aviation antenna is only certified for a limited number of aircraft models. While the Boeing 737 (most common for domestic flights) is expected to be certified by the end of 2024, other models used by South African airlines may require further waiting.

While Starlink Aviation faces regulatory and compatibility hurdles, it presents a promising future for high-speed Wi-Fi on domestic flights in South Africa. FlySafair’s interest in the technology paves the way for a potential shift in how passengers stay connected while flying.