There’s nothing today’s business traveller cannot do in mid-air, and connectivity will ony get better as satellite coverage improves
Improved connectivity has drastically changed how we communicate and do business, in the office, at home but most especially while on the move.
“Passengers flying on business aircraft expect to be able to make a call, access their email, surf the internet and more while they’re in flight,” says Jason Natwick, director of product line management at Satcom Direct, the Florida-based satellite voice, fax, datalink and internet communications solutions provider. “Recent advances in technology have made these capabilities more accessible, whether you operate or fly on a Gulfstream or a Cessna Citation.
“Ultimately, the determination of which system to install comes down to the mission of the aircraft, the passengers that are on board, the type of connectivity needed and where the aircraft is expected to fly.”
Andy Beers, director of aeronautical sales for the Americas at satcom equipment manufacturer Thrane & Thrane, agrees: “How good your connectivity is now determines how many planes you sell, not how your cabin looks.”
A series of type approvals from Inmarsat has meant that new Thrane & Thrane customers have several more antenna options available. Aircraft operators who already have the appropriate antennas can upgrade to SwiftBroadband more easily via their existing installation.
The company’s broadband solutions range from the recently introduced entry-level Aviator 200 for light jets, which has greatly reduced the cost of previous high-gain antennas, to the Aviator 700, which offers the ability to access a true IP-based network in flight facilitating global voice and data calls, email, fax and internet browsing. Thrane & Thrane supplies its own Wi-Fi, VoIP-based handset (voice over internet protocol) with noise-cancelling system.
Following ARINC’s appointment as an Inmarsat SwiftBroadband distribution partner, ARINC Direct, the company’s business and general aviation arm, has rolled out new products including a business jet Wi-Fi hotspot, enabling in-flight payment. The company says this development, which complements its Cabin Connect product for commercial air transport, will enable business jet users to charge passengers for internet usage in a totally transparent way.
Satcom Direct has introduced the same idea with SkyTicket, which can be used by any business aircraft operator, including fractional and Part 135 charter operators. Passengers can create an account while on the aircraft or log in to their existing SkyTicket account to choose a package of time or block of usage, determined by the satellite network and the hardware on the aircraft. Users are charged to their credit card and can view their usage as they go, with any unused balance remaining valid for one year.
SkyTicket currently works with Inmarsat and Yonder hardware, and functionality on multiple other hardware platforms will follow in the near future. “It is designed with a simple graphical user interface [GUI] that works similarly to when you use internet in a hotel or coffee shop, and the log-in screen can be branded to showcase logos and brand colours for a charter operator or business,” says Jim Jensen, founder and owner of Satcom Direct.
Inmarsat and Honeywell have signed an exclusive $2.8bn agreement under which Honeywell will produce the onboard hardware that will enable commercial, business and government aviation customers to connect to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) satellite network. This Ka-band network, which will provide users with a higher throughput than satellite solutions based on Ku-band, is due to launch in 2013 and will provide global services from 2014. Users will be able to access multi-media presentations, video conferencing and social media in real time while in flight via laptops, iPads, tablets and smartphones.
Panasonic Avionics Corp announced in March that it had become the majority shareholder in AeroMobile Communications, producer of the eXPhone product. The deal reinforces Panasonic’s role as arguably the leading global provider of in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) technology for commercial airlines. It offers broadband access and live TV through its Global Communications Suite as well as the ability for passengers to use their mobile phones, smartphones and BlackBerry devices to make and receive voice calls and generate text messages and emails.
IDAIR, a joint venture between Lufthansa Technik and Panasonic that installs this technology, is currently restricted to BBJ aircraft and bigger. CEO Andrew Muirhead says the company is still 18 months away from a solution that will give passengers on smaller purpose-built business jets full connectivity.
“The difference between us and other suppliers is our commercial aircraft background. Companies we’re competing against don’t have that degree of commercial exposure. We’re in a good position in providing global broadband and that makes an attractive end-user cost model,” Muirhead says. “Boeing had a connection a decade ago enabling streaming of music, video conferencing and so on, but the business model didn’t cover the cost of leasing satellite space. You need access to the transponder on the satellite.”
Boeing’s system had limited take-up, but the world is a different place now, he adds. “Everyone has a smartphone now. There’s a bigger audience you can reach as more commercial capacity comes online.
“We’re working on business jet solutions, but a smaller antenna means less gain. Ideally, IDAIR wants to be fitting its systems on new aircraft as well as serving the retrofit market, but we have to make sure the antenna fits into existing radomes. OEMs recognise the need to provide solutions, but don’t always provide the space.”
Crosshead: “Cabin-agnostic” technology
California-based technology company Esoteric, which produces next-generation entertainment and control systems for private jets and yachts, claims its app-based SkyPad is the lightest AV-on-demand (AVOD) product on the market
The system is described as “cabin agnostic”. Any personal mobile device running it works in any cabin configured with a SkyPad backbone. The app’s GUI elements are effectively recreated each time the user enters a SkyPad-equipped cabin, so the same app displays a customised GUI.
SkyPad can be installed as a stand-alone media system on any aircraft or integrated with any current high-speed satellite system and wireless router. It combines state-of-the-art audio/video compression and distribution technology with cloud computing, delivering content currently via Ku-Band and eventually Ka-Band. Esoteric claims it can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of traditional wired systems.
Innotech Aviation in Montreal, which provides interior completions, refurbishment and avionics, has fitted SkyPad on Cessna and Bombardier business jets, including several Global Express aircraft.
Also equipping Cessna aircraft is New York-based Talon Air Maintenance Services, master dealer for International Communications Group. ICG’s avionics products provide seamless satellite-based global voice and data telecommunications services for both flight deck and cabin on business aircraft of any size.
Talon announced at last year’s NBAA event that it had completed the first installation of an ICG SB-200 Sora Lite advanced Inmarsat high speed data and voice satellite communications system on a Cessna Citation III. This followed its earlier installation of ICG satcom equiupmet on a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter.
ICG’s product line-up includes ePhone, a digital VoIP-based handset that provides the same screen quality customers are accustomed to on their handheld personal devices.
TrueNorth Avionics has teamed up with engineering services specialist StandardAero to earn FAA supplemental type certificates for communications upgrade solutions on Gulfstream III, IV, G450, G500 and G550 aircraft, based on its Simphone OpenCabin system
Simphone was designed in response to airborne telecom systems that were heavy, complex, expensive to install and operate, and prone to obsolescence, TrueNorth says. Its integrated system is claimed to involve less hardware, and presents an intelligent user interface. It is app-based, allowing a wide variety of customised features to be added.
The company’s latest development is the TrueNorth Stylus multilingual handset, available from June in wired and wireless versions with a design that can be personalised to match an operator’s cabin decor. “We’re seeing interest in both the TrueNorth Stylus and the MyStylus app from our current customers as well as aircraft OEMs, ” says TrueNorth president Mark van Berkel.
Duncan Aviation has also been busy for Gulfstream, completing a Wi-Fi installation in a Gulfstream V for TWC Aviation at its avionics satellite facility in Van Nuys, California following a modified STC that initially covered only the Gulfstream IV. Duncan Aviation has also installed Wi-Fi operations in TWC’s Gulfstream IV-SP aircraft.
Ohio-based MRO provider Constant Aviation has received a supplemental type certificate for Wi-Fi, satellite phone capability and the Aircell Gogo Biz in-flight internet system in Embraer’s Phenom 300 jet.
In Europe, 328 Design has completed installation of the new Cobham SB300 SwiftBroadband system on a 328DBJ after receiving EASA certification. The customer has Wi-Fi connectivity for personal mobile phones, PDA and laptops, and is said to be delighted with his “office in the sky”.
Joerg Gorkenant, head of design organisation at 328 Design, says: “his is another product improvement that we can offer to our fleet of 328 customers who might find an interest for VIP, commuter as well as mission applications for live data streaming and long-distance communication.”
InTheAirNetVIP, part of Rogerson Aircraft Corp, has introduced MAPP WAPP. The wireless entertainment platform displays maps, plays movies and audio and recharges smart devices.
Based on the company’s patent-applied-for Android architecture, while also enabling access to a wide range of other operating systems, such as Apple or iOS, MAPP WAPP enables business passengers to use their personal electronic devices for all the things they were designed to do. With a broadband link in the aircraft, they also have full email and internet connectivity.
Crosshead: Resolution like at home
Innovative Advantage, based at Redmond in Washington state, claims to offer superior video quality for business and VIP aircraft by using a fibre optic distributed network system around the aircraft cabin. Signals are routed at their full, uncompressed bandwidth, giving passengers equivalent screen quality to their Blu-ray system at home, the company says. It has made more than 100 deliveries, including to Gulfstream G450s and 550s.
ViaSat, the provider of the Yonder high-speed internet service, has appointed Flying Colours Corp as an authorised reseller and installation facility for its VMT-1500 system. This is claimed to be the lightest, smallest-footprint Ku-band terminal for aircraft internet access, providing the fastest connectivity on the world’s busiest air routes.
The agreement follows Flying Colours’ first committed installation of the VMT-1500 system on a Bombardier CRJ ExecLiner conversion underway at its Peterborough, Ontario facility.
Meanwhile JetCorp Technical Services, a US subsidiary of Flying Colours, has increased the breadth of its connectivity offering following completion of an STC for the Aircell Cabin Telecommunications Router (CTR) on a Learjet 60. Installation and certification of the Aircell CTR provides in-cabin Wi-Fi capability for Aircell’s Gogo Biz in-flight internet service. The system can be used on laptops, tablets and smartphones, enabling passengers to surf the internet, retrieve and answer email with attachments, and access their corporate virtual private networks.
The dedicated avionics installation team at JetCorp in St Louis has completed almost 40 Wi-Fi installations for Bombardier in total, for the Challenger 300, 604 and 605 as well as the Learjets.
Following hard on the heels of the first installation resulting in the STC, a second Learjet 60 has had the Aircell CTR installed and a further five aircraft are in the pipeline. The company has devised a more efficient installation process that has reduced the average downtime required from 10 days to just four. The company is also planning to gain more Aircell STCs over the next year, enabling it to fit additional Learjet models and other aircraft.