Qantas has switched on its inflight internet wi-fi service to the travelling public for the first time, conducting a demonstration flight on board Boeing 737-800 VH-XZB for media, representatives from providers ViaSat and the National Broadband Network, airline staff and invited guests on Friday.
The flight took off from Sydney a little before 1100 and flew along the New South Wales coast before turning towards Albury near the Victorian border and returning to Mascot for landing at about 1240.
The public’s first opportunity to experience Qantas’s wi-fi offering was expected to be later on Friday afternoon, when VH-XZB operates its first scheduled passenger service with the technology available to passengers.
Wi-fi was available from the moment the doors were closed. The connection Australian Aviation experienced was a little sluggish as the aircraft took off and climbed through the clouds. However, once at the cruising altitude of 38,000ft, those on board experienced a solid connection that enabled streaming from Foxtel, Netflix and YouTube, as well as posting on social media and downloading emails.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who was on board the flight, said the launch of inflight internet wi-fi was another initiative to improve the passenger experience.
“The technology we’re using on-board this 737 is a generation ahead of what most airlines around the world have and there’s a fair amount of complexity involved,” Joyce said.
“That’s why we’ve installed it on one aircraft for the first few months until we’ve finished fine tuning and are ready to roll out to the rest of the domestic fleet.”
“From a competitive perspective, today’s announcement puts us in a very strong position. No other domestic airline is offering its passengers next-generation wi-fi with a commitment that it’ll continue to be included in the price of the fare.”
Friday’s flight was Qantas’s second attempt to launch its inflight internet wi-fi service. The airline cancelled a proposed flight on March 27 due to what it described as stability issues.
Qantas plans to roll out the technology on its fleet of domestic 737-800s and Airbus A330s, with about 80 aircraft to be fitted with a satellite antenna, multiple wireless access points in the cabin and other hardware by the end of 2018.
Connectivity is provided by ViaSat’s global satellite network and the National Broadband Network’s Sky Muster satellites, which use the high capacity Ka-band. The service will be free for all passengers, with those on board offered free subscriptions to the likes of Foxtel, Stan, Netflix and Spotify for a certain number of days.
The airline is also talking up the operational benefits of having inflight connectivity, particularly for flightcrews to receive updated weather information en route and cabin crews to more proactively manage passenger disruptions in the event of delays.
Virgin Australia plans to shortly commence a three-month inflight internet wi-fi trial on board a 737-800 from mid-April after naming Gogo and Optus as its technology partners for the service.
The airline plans to utilise the 2Ku technology from Optus for domestic and New Zealand flights, with Intelsat and SES for its other international flights, Virgin said in late March.
The Virgin 737, VH-YIG, has been fitted with the necessary hardware and some internal testing is being undertaken ahead of the service being opened up to the public.
Virgin has signed up Netflix, Stan and Pandora for streaming content for its wifi service.
And Air New Zealand said in October 2016 its international and domestic jet fleet would be progressively equipped with wi-fi from 2017 utilising the Inmarsat new global GX satellite constellation. Trials are scheduled for the second half of 2017 on a new Airbus A321neo and refitted Boeing 777-300ER.