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Gogo Gets FAA Approval To Test New Wi-Fi System

The agency has granted Gogo a supplemental type certificate allowing it to fly with all of the needed 2Ku equipment on its Boeing 737-500 test aircraft—a key milestone for starting installations with airline customers.

Airlines that have signed up for Gogo’s new 2Ku satellite Internet offering are now one step closer to ramping up installations of the product on their aircraft, thanks to a key FAA approval.

The agency has granted Gogo a supplemental type certificate (STC) allowing it to fly with all of the needed 2Ku equipment on its Boeing 737-500 test aircraft—a key milestone for starting installations with airline customers. The approval follows a previous STC that Gogo secured in May to start operating a portion of the equipment, including one of two antennas and a radome, Gogo spokesman Steve Nolan said. Both approvals came after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowed Gogo to put 2Ku on 1,000 aircraft in January.

Seven airlines have committed to installing, or at least testing, 2Ku on more than 500 aircraft, Nolan said.

Overall, Delta Air Lines and its equity partners have been the most-visible airlines to commit to the technology so far. The 2Ku launch customer was Delta’s SkyTeam partner Aeromexico, which announced about a year ago that it would debut the service on at least 20 of its 737s as part of a bigger plan to equip its fleet with Internet. The airline is expected to be the first airline to install 2Ku, Nolan said. The airline is on track to install the technology in the fourth quarter, he added. A close second is Delta’s transatlantic joint-venture partner, Virgin Atlantic. Last September, the U.K airline announced it would retrofit its existing aircraft with the service.

Many of the aircraft slated for 2Ku installations belong to Delta Air Lines itself, which in February committed to outfitting more than 250 aircraft with the faster Internet offering for longer domestic routes, as well as flights to Latin America and Caribbean destinations. Delta’s Brazilian partner Gol has also committed to installing 2Ku on its entire 737 fleet, along with a new streaming TV service for personal devices, and said it plans to offer the service by mid-2016. Today, the carrier operates 139 Boeing 737-700s and -800s.

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Other airlines have committed on a smaller scale: United Airlines will outfit 2Ku on five aircraft, said Nolan, and both Japan Air Lines and Air Canada have also committed to trialing it on their aircraft.

The 2Ku service—which uses two antennas to transmit information to and from satellites—should be much faster than Gogo’s ATG-4 cellular-based wi-fi that relies on ground-based cell towers in the U.S. The manufacturer says it will offer peak speeds of more than 70 mbps to aircraft, compared to the 9.8 mbps provided by ATG-4. Speeds could reach more than 100 mbps when new satellites turn on in 2017, the manufacturer has said. 

That service is the second-generation version of Gogo’s Air-to-Ground service, which first launched for commercial carriers in 2008 with a speed of only 3.1 mbps. More than 2,400 aircraft are equipped with one of those services today, Nolan said, adding that the airline also has more than 150 aircraft with Ku-band service capable of delivering Wi-Fi on overwater routes.

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