Satcom Direct (SD) has been in the business aviation connectivity business a quarter century. Company president Chris Moore takes a look at SD’s latest developments and highlights some of the milestones along the way
Satcom Direct celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Even without that most significant milestone, 2022 has already been busy. In April alone, the company announced Federal Aviation Administration approval of Supplemental Type Certificates for the Plane Simple Ku-band tail-mounted antenna on the Gulfstream G550, G450, GV and GIV, followed soon after by the revelation that its FlightDeck Freedom (FDF) communications platform had been selected as the default datalink for the in-production G500, G600 and G650ER, with initial line fits already completed. Then, at the very beginning of May, came news that SD was opening a Singapore office.
Considering the Plane Simple antenna, Chris Moore, President, Satcom Direct, says: “The programme’s evolution has been very significant for us. We were already a hardware manufacturer with the Satcom Direct family of routers, including the Satcom Direct Router (SDR), SDR Gateway and SDR WiFi hub, plus stylus handsets for aircraft. These meant we could support all elements of cabin Wi-Fi distribution and support our customers in flight. We decided to develop the Plane Simple antenna system from the ground up to address growing demand from a digitised business aviation community.
“The antenna is the piece of the connectivity puzzle that joins the SD ecosystem of software, hardware and ground infrastructure, adding value across our agnostic connectivity systems that also enable third-party integration. We have simplified connectivity for business aviation owners by positioning SD as the single source for all connectivity acquisition and support needs. Owners/operators need only make one call to SD for connectivity or streamlined customer support along the whole connectivity supply chain. We believe it will change the way the sector thinks about connectivity.”
Satcom Direct’s SD Avionics division has developed the antenna range in partnership with Quantenelektronische Systeme GmbH (QEST), a market leader in innovative aeronautical antennas. With just two line replaceable units, Plane Simple requires minimal installation and offers simple transition pathways, while the associated modem may be located in an unpressurised fuselage section, freeing cabin stowage space. The initial Plane Simple antenna configuration links to the multi-layered, high-throughput Intelsat FlexExec satellite network. Developed for the business aviation sector, FlexExec delivers global coverage through Ku-band.
Meanwhile, the significance of FlightDeck Freedom as a line fit addition to the latest Gulfstream models should not be underestimated. It combines a robust datalink and flight communications platform in a single service package. Moore explains: “FDF keeps the entire flight department and crew synced with the aircraft for more efficient flight operations by providing critical data to support service monitoring. It also plays a significant part in monitoring connectivity usage and can alert crew if there are anticipated coverage losses, and provide geo-notifications relating to upcoming sensitive airspace as well as vital weather alerts.
“Immediately after flight, aircraft movement data is delivered via FDF datalink to web-based SD PostFlight software, which automatically populates the aircraft flight log with all available data relating to flight times and cycle events for each leg of a journey. This automated, timely and precise recording of critical flight data reduces pilot workload, minimises the opportunity for human error and improves operational efficiency by synchronising the flight department, crew and maintenance teams with autonomous flight log information.”
That FDF provides secure communication goes without saying, given SD’s reputation for data security, but its flexibility is perhaps less immediately obvious. Moore again: “Its configurable features enable integration with value-added services and facilitate monitoring of industry compliance requirements. It also has an open architecture design allowing integration with leading trip support providers and supporting tools.”
Providing support to a growing fleet of line-fitted Gulfstream aircraft could prove challenging, but Moore is confident in FDF’s maturity and capability as well as SD’s ability to stand behind Gulfstream customers. “FDF was launched in 2007, so it has been a core SD product and service for 15 years. When it was first launched it was built on an agnostic platform to allow third-party integration and this is how we’ve developed all our technology since then. As with all SD products and services, we have a dedicated team that supports FDF developments and customer requirements.”
This is also not the first time that SD and Gulfstream have worked closely together. Moore provides details: “When Gulfstream launched its Connected Services programme in 2017, we were named exclusive provider of cabin and cockpit connectivity service plans on in-production and in-service aircraft. This means that Gulfstream customers can fly globally with confidence knowing they can maximise faster, richer data during all phases of flight. This relationship still exists and we are pleased to be able to support Gulfstream’s customers around the world.”
Satcom Direct is 25 years old in 2022. Over that quarter century connectivity has been transformed, reinvented, evolved and transformed again. What does Chris Moore consider are the industry highlights in that time? “The most significant developments relate to consistency, capability and customer experience,” he says. “Connectivity historically relates to enabling communications, essential for increasing productivity and leisure options in flight as executives, families and groups wanted to remain connected while they travelled, but today it means much more than communication. It is about generating aircraft data, and enabling greater productivity and increased efficiency of operations.
“Traditionally, services were prescriptive and limited. Today, connectivity does so much more than just enable communications, as data sits at the heart of aviation activity. It is now so important that if the connectivity is not working properly many operators/owners declare an AOG, demonstrating how far expectations and connectivity solutions have come.”
And what have been the most significant milestones for SD during its first 25 years? “The Satcom Direct Router has raised cabin Wi-Fi standards and at least 2,500 routers from the SD router family now support onboard connectivity. It is the most popular router in the business aviation sector.
“Customers expect the same connectivity experience in the air as they do on the ground, and as more data-hungry apps are being used, data transmission rates are soaring. Connectivity is tailored to each customer mission; services and products can be tailored to enhance the passenger experience. Customers also expect a better customer support experience, which is why the introduction of the Plane Simple antennas has been such a milestone. We can now support our customers across the whole connectivity supply chain whereas once upon a time we’d have had to make three or more calls to create a solution or resolve any issues.
“Aircraft now generate reams of data that can be synchronised across all flight team stakeholders. This enables predictive maintenance, creates a digital history of the aircraft, monitors aircraft performance across the board and is raising industry standards by enabling improved operational efficiencies. The accuracy of the digital history helps retain asset value as it drives more efficient operations and maintenance, as well as recording much more accurate aircraft cycle times.
“The convergence of products enabling third-party integration of all the pieces of the aviation operational landscape, delivering more real-time, accurate data, is also now a reality and it is transforming business aviation.”