JetBlue completes initial Ka-band flight tests

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JetBlue has completed several flight tests of its "Fly-Fi" Ka-band connectivity system and is awaiting US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification for the system, says an 11 July blog post on the carrier's website.

In June, the carrier temporarily removed the first aircraft from its fleet to install the new equipment under an "experimental designation", says JetBlue.

The aircraft has undergone several test flights to prove the airworthiness of the equipment, which includes a rotating antenna encased in a new radome, a video shows. The new antenna is positioned beside the antenna that the airline has already installed to broadcast its existing Live TV product.

The New York City-based carrier says it also took the aircraft on another flight to test the interaction of the Ka-band signals with other aircraft systems. In addition, it has performed tests on the performance of the inflight entertainment system itself. The carrier is "thrilled" with the speeds achieved in these initial tests, it says.

ViaSat, the company providing the Ka-band capacity for JetBlue in North America through its ViaSat-1 satellite, has said that its offering is designed to provide a connection of 12 Mbps or more to each individual passenger.

Before JetBlue can begin scheduled service with the first aircraft and ramp up installations on the rest of its fleet, it must receive a supplemental type certificate (STC) from the FAA. This process is underway, the airline says, however it is unclear how long the process will take.

In June, ViaSat announced that JetBlue doubled its commitment for bandwidth to power Fly-Fi to $20 million. The airline plans to offer the service for free to customers until the first 30 aircraft in its fleet receive the new equipment. It will add capacity to new areas in 2016 with the launch of ViaSat-2, which offers new coverage across North, Central and South America and across the Atlantic.

JetBlue is the commercial airline pioneering Ka-band connectivity in the skies, and other airlines could soon follow if it receives the STC for the service.

In 2011, United Continental Holdings' Continental Airlines subsidiary made a commitment to install the ViaSat Ka-band offering on more than 200 domestic Boeing 737 and 757 aircraft.

ViaSat's service will also be an option on new aircraft in the future. In June, the satellite operator announced that it signed an agreement with Boeing to have Ka-band satellite terminals line-fit on new Boeing aircraft.

ViaSat will see increasing competition for its Ka-Band product in coming years from new players, most notably Inmarsat. The latter company is planning to provide global Ka-Band coverage to commercial airlines from 2015, which would be before ViaSat is scheduled to expand coverage past North America with ViaSat-2.