For 80 years ARINC has been providing the aviation industry with the means to communicate. Today, ARINC has developed a major presence in the business aviation world by transposing the knowledge gained in the airline and military sectors to the business aviation world, right down to the “one man; one pl ane” set up. James Hardie, ARINC Direct Business Manager, explains how ARINC accommodates all sizes of operation and Lee Costin, Director, Satellite Solutions & Cabin Services, talks us through ARINC’s satellite communications offering
“We are very much an active integrator of the services that enable successful operations,” says Hardie who leads the ARINC Direct business unit which caters to the business aviation market. “We have built some of our own solutions within the package we offer the business aviation market, we manage the user interface and use this to integrate a number of third-party applications.”
He says that it is this bundled way of approaching the market that allows the necessary synergy to occur for ARINC Direct’s customers so that a complex system become simple at the user level. “From the moment a pilot or dispatcher considers a flight we can provide valuable information and planning capabilities,” says Hardie. “In the air we can update them with the latest information about anything that affects the flight and their passengers will have access to the most effective communications systems available in the cabin environment. We strive to be as complete a solution as we can.”
The team at ARINC Direct is also patently aware that it has to be very active on the front line to support its clients in the field. “We have a 24/7 operations centre housed in Annapolis which assists our customers with day-to-day operations support. We also offer additional high levels of customer support in terms of engineering and troubleshooting, for example in Europe we have three full-time field based customer support managers,” he says.
There is local support in ARINC’s regional offices in Annapolis (HQ), Crawley UK, Delhi, India, and most recently in Singapore. ARINC Direct has also moved to web-based market support which makes support highly accessible. “But this is also backed up by real people who are genuine experts,” says Hardie. “For example, all our Flight Coordinators are FAA qualified dispatchers and there is a training programme to support that. Many of them have some level of pilot training or even commercial pilot licences.”
He continues: “We have highly qualified engineers with years of aviation experience both within the ARINC Direct team and in the greater ARINC company. We encourage our customers to use the web to get the latest available information but we also support other means of communication.”
As an integrator of its own and third-party services, ARINC Direct has become expert at bundling services. To what extent does the way in which ARINC bundles services accommodate all flavours of operations? Hardie responds: “We try to package services in sensible bundles that meet the majority of the needs of business jet operators. This enables us to plan and budget effectively with our partner suppliers and to offer a well balanced set of services in each package.”
He explains that sometimes a customer may not need a service item, or cannot see how he will use it, but often this line of questioning reveals another advantage of being an ARINC Direct customer: they are part of a community of operators. “Every item we have built or added to a package has pretty much been in direct response to a customer request. Our customers give us our best ideas because they know how they want to operate, but they also have a lot in common with each other.”
Of course the business aviation market is diverse and fractured and so the personal touch becomes imperative. “It is certainly necessary in order to build trust and be responsive to customer needs,” says Hardie. “That is why we have a global sales team and customer support.”
Support aside, it is technology that has really made ARINC – as a whole organisation – what it is today and business jet operators stand to benefit from these advances through ARINC Direct. “The investment that ARINC has made in its network infrastructure to support other businesses is the backbone of the connectivity that we can offer to the private jet market,” says Hardie. “New technologies are increasingly available to smaller aircraft operators and they are then able to access the same level of data as their commercial cousins.”
He points out that private aviation is now leading the way in terms of uptake of Swift Broadband and other cockpit advances, both in new aircraft fit and retrofit. “The lifecycle and the appetite for new technologies is different on private jets, it is a very young fleet, but it is the knowledge that ARINC has built up in the commercial sectors that is a foundation for us supporting these operators,” points out Hardie.
He is emphatic that the availability of Swift Broadband connectivity via ever smaller hardware is a huge step change. “It was not that long ago that satellite connectivity was limited by the size of the aircraft, now this technology is available on all aircraft types using a variety of different antenna fits,” he adds.
Costin, from the Satellite Solutions division, explains further the levels of service available for passenger communications. “There are a number of services that can be delivered over SwiftBroadband,” he says. “The interface in the cabin is able to support Ethernet IP at two levels of service: ‘Standard IP’ which is a best effort service capable of supporting most IP based applications, (for example web browsing, instant messenger, email etc); however for those applications that require the highest network performance (such as Streaming Video or GSM telephony) the ‘Streaming IP’ service ring fences network resources to ensure optimum customer experience.”
SwiftBroadband also supports cabin interfaces for a single voice line (although further lines can be supported over VoIP solutions), ISDN and fax.
Costin continues: “In addition to the different cabin interfaces, SwiftBroadband can be bought in a range of tariff structures to support aircraft operators’ needs. These structures vary depending on the class of antenna (High Gain, Intermediate or SB200) and the expected usage pattern for the aircraft or fleet. ARINC is able to talk all customers through these options and make sure they are provided with the most appropriate tariff for their individual situation.”
What about flight deck communications? “While flight deck communications do not currently operate over SwiftBroadband they are still very important to consider when selecting cabin communications,” responds Costin. Typically SwiftBroadband SATCOM terminals support both Inmarsat SB and Inmarsat Classic for Safety service. This means that the business case is that much stronger for SwiftBroadband than other services that aren’t able to support safety services.
He explains that Inmarsat is aiming to make safety services available on SwiftBroadband for the industry within the next few years. Costin says: “In short, safety service is going to be available on L-band (the frequency spectrum that Inmarsat Classic and SB operate on) for many years to come, making the return on investment for SB SATCOM equipage better.”
Of course the increased adoption rates of the iPad and other tablet computers are changing the way that passengers communicate and are creating increased possibilities for crew connectivity and cheaper inflight entertainment. “Wifi access is a prerequisite for the savvy passenger wanting to stay connected while inflight,” he says. “Connectivity is becoming more and more important; it’s no longer a means of differentiation among business jet owner/operators. As with all emerging technologies, what was once an optional extra has now been adopted into the core of the service offering.”
Hardie adds: “With Swift Broadband, I see the ease of connectivity to the aircraft taking a new and exciting leap and there will be some interesting developments as a result of this. I am sure ARINC Direct will have a big part to play. We have some ideas about how to make use of this with our iPad App development programme but as always we will be carefully listening to our customers.”
So what has it meant for ARINC to be an Inmarsat Distribution Partner for SwiftBroadband now that it is a full year into the partnership? “We are very proud to have been chosen as a SwiftBroadband Distribution Partner,” says Costin. “This status has enabled us to develop cabin technologies and offer new applications and products to our customers. It’s a very important market for us and we are happy to be able to offer SwiftBroadband.”
Returning to the wider picture, Hardie says that the world really is ARINC Direct’s oyster. He says that all of the BRIC countries are not only on ARINC’s radar but the communications company is already there with sales and support plans to meet the market’s needs.
“We feel we are well placed to assist operators wherever they are with the right type of services as proven by our customers all over the world,” Hardie concludes.