Expanded Connections

posted on 20th September 2021
Expanded Connections

Options for sharing data between operations and maintenance departments in the modern cockpit are expanding. Satcom Direct has long been a leader in cockpit connectivity and now Bombardier has brought its Smart Link Plus product to market

When iPad and other tablet-based electronic flight bag (EFB) apps began appearing in cockpits, pilots realised the benefits of lighter flight bags and, more significantly, real-time updates on safety critical data, including weather, as well as operational information. Leaving aside connectivity options for passengers, the revolution in cockpit situational awareness (SA) had begun.

Now that high-speed broadband connection is commonplace, the opportunities for expanding pilot SA are growing to include not only enhanced real-time and operational data, but also information derived from the aircraft itself, generally shared with colleagues on the ground.

Satcom Direct (SD) is unusual in supplying agnostic connectivity solutions and a range of in-house functionality. Nick Cook, VP Flight Deck Services, says: “Most business jet aircraft today have adequate bandwidth to support cockpit apps. Connectivity in the cabin is supported by a completely separate system to the flight deck and while the pilots do not have control over the division, depending on the aircraft and how it is crewed, they may have a role to play in troubleshooting connectivity issues.” Exemplifying SD’s holistic approach to delivering experience rather than simply a broadband ‘pipe’, he continues: “We encourage flight crews using SD services to be familiar with our systems through our comprehensive Entry into Service training programmes.”

FlightDeck Freedom
Central to SD’s cockpit provision, the FlightDeck Freedom (FDF) datalink service offers unique configuration options, including the ability to integrate third-party flight planning services, evolving compliance support, and the streamlining of flight crew and ground operations workflow.
Again typically for SD, FDF employs an open architecture design, enabling support of any avionics and every datalink-capable airframe; and it may be customised to meet individual mission needs. The system supports flight deck and cabin communications so that crew are able to monitor connectivity and troubleshoot issues in real time to better manage passenger expectations.

Explaining the wider FDF offer, Cook says: “It enhances operational safety through direct delivery of automated notifications including hazardous weather, route and security alerts, and supports real-time aircraft and fleet tracking worldwide, which can be monitored from the ground and in the air. The unique GeoNotification feature details when aircraft are approaching a defined geographic area which may affect connectivity or be defined as sensitive airspace.”
Of course, FDF is designed for easy integration with third-party applications and with SD’s own products, including the SD Pro digital flight operations management system. “Data shared through FDF synchronises flight crew with ground operations, keeping team members informed about aircraft performance in real time to support improved flight operations, budgeting and maintenance scheduling,” Cook continues. “FDF also supports fleet compliance with FANS, ADS-C and CPDLC to meet evolving air traffic control safety requirements and the changing landscape of business aviation operations.”

SD Pro itself supports multiple flight department tools, including pre-flight, inflight and post-flight tools that Cook says enables synchronised information sharing with all members of the flight department and crew. “This improves communications, supports better management and, through the configurable dashboard, ensures team members can access information relevant to their roles. The system is built on an open architecture design and is modular, meaning SD proprietary software modules and third party tools can also be accessed.”

Smart Link Plus
While SD is bringing services to cockpits across the industry, Bombardier is enhancing the experience of its customers through Smart Link Plus. The Smart Link Plus box debuted on the Global 7500 as a baseline installation, although a company spokesperson says Bombardier is developing a retrofit solution for in-service aircraft following a phased approach. “The box is already available for retrofitting on Challenger 300 and Challenger 350 aircraft, at our worldwide service facilities. Availability on other Bombardier aircraft will follow in the next few months, including the Global Express, Global Express XRS, Global 5000, Global 6000, Challenger 604, Challenger 605 and Challenger 650.”

Smart Link Plus enables operators to make real-time inflight data-driven decisions to effectively track, troubleshoot and resolve aircraft service needs. At its heart, the Smart Link Plus box is an advanced health monitoring unit (HMU) allowing the secured transmission of key aircraft performance data automatically and wirelessly to Bombardier’s digital platform. The system is designed to empower flight operations and maintenance teams, but also delivers important SA into the cockpit.
The Smart Link Plus box uses the cabin connectivity system, whether satcom or air-to-ground, to channel information to/from the aircraft, although on the Global 7500 the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) is used for inflight notifications. Further connectivity is enabled when the jet lands, as recorded high frequency aircraft parameters are transferred using Wi-Fi/cellular connections. Because the pilots can connect to the cabin Wi-Fi, they can also access the myMaintenance App, just as ground crew do.

The spokesperson explains: “They can access the inflight notifications, which include some flight deck effects they can see directly in the cockpit, but other information as well. For example, they can analyse any CAS [crew alerting system] events that may have occurred in previous flights and access the direct link related to an event in our Smart Fix technical publication.”

The bandwidth available aboard aircraft continues to drive an expansion in the range of value-added functionalities and capabilities available to flight crew. In addition to its recently launched myMaintenance app, Bombardier is continuing to look for new ways to use live data from the aircraft, while Nick Cook at SD sees new connectivity options, including smaller antennas suitable for lighter aircraft, leading to refactored apps better suited to addressing the needs of these particular aircraft operators.