by Brian Wilson
Looking at a few photos of my father recently reminded me of when I used to work with him around the house or in the garage. He would always say, “Right tool for the right job”. It’s a simple enough statement, but it can be applied to many situations.
Gone are the days when the business traveler wanted to just relax during flight, to catch up on some needed rest, or read the latest best-seller. Today businesses and their management teams seek to have every technical advantage to give them an edge as they work to secure the next business opportunity – even while in mid-air.
A recent No Plane No Gain testimonial featured an operator who claimed that having the right aircraft outfitted with the right tools allowed his company to secure a lucrative contract over the weekend, before his competitor could arrive via the airlines the following Monday corning.
The CEO mentioned that having a corporate aircraft gave his company the edge to arrive before his competitor – but that having the right tools on his aircraft was the driving factor.
Within one hour, the operator’s flight department was able to get the aircraft ready for departure, and since the aircraft was outfitted with the latest SwiftBroadBand (SBB) and Wi-Fi technology, the necessary research and presentation was prepared in flight, and en route to the client. The management team was able to access its VPN, receive scanned documents and other vital reports emailed from its support team back at the office, and even review the presentation on the aircraft entertainment system before landing.
DEFINE YOUR MISSION
A recent MRO report indicated that Cabin Avionics will be the fastest growing modifications category due to the desire for sophisticated onboard connectivity. I can personally attest to the results of this survey, as my phone rings daily from operators and flight departments inquiring about connectivity because the folks flying onboard need to stay connected.
I always respond with two simple questions:
• Where does your aircraft fly?
• What are your passengers’ expectations for connectivity?
Let us discuss the first question, and how it effects which product you may want to purchase. Typically, operators fly primarily in the country they are based with a percentage of international flying to other countries.
Keep in mind that some products are designed to work in just one particular geographical area. These types of systems need to be augmented with yet another ship set when international coverage is required – which will surely add cost and downtime when performing the installation.
In today’s global economy, keep in mind that companies who only fly domestically presently could expand internationally in the next few years as business grows. It is a good idea to include the decision-makers within the company in the selection process for Cabin Avionics, so as to fully understand their business model for the next few years (as opposed to their immediate demands). This will prevent you doing the installation twice in the long-term.
Turning to the second question I always ask, this often proves to be a question the caller is unable to answer with any detail initially.
A common mistake I have observed is that the caller underestimates the speed needed to successfully address the passengers’ requirements for connectivity. They are often more concerned about a specific price-point that they have in mind, missing the focus of having the right tool.
Let us digress for one moment as we establish that the allocated speed for SwiftBroadBand is 432Kbps which is laggard to any land-based web access since the days of dial up. (Yes, acceleration can be used to increase the speed upwards to, and exceeding 1 Mbps, but speed comes with a price, along with geographical and technological limitations).
Another mistake is to underestimate what the owner is willing to pay for the type of service they desire. A client once said to me when I was trying to caution him about pricing, “Son, let me determine what is too expensive…”
When assessing the correct product, you should put issues of cost to the back of your mind, and see a live demonstration of the product. Seek out an experienced avionics shop that has done different types of installations on varying aircraft, and they should be able to give you a comprehensive quotation comparing speed, service and price, so the owner has numerous options to consider, and far more information than cost alone.
IRIDIUM VS INMARSAT:
GET THE FACTS
In virtually all cases, when you make a voice call in a corporate aircraft you are communicating with a satellite which relays the call to a ground station support center that transfers the connection to the standard telephony infrastructure.
Iridium’s constellation consists of 66 interconnected Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites which provide worldwide coverage both on the ground and in the air.
The Inmarsat-4 (I-4) series of satellites consists of three satellites that fly in geosynchronous orbit 22,240 statute miles above the earth. They provide coverage both on the ground and in the air, but are limited to no coverage above and below the 70 degree latitude marks.
Typically the small- to medium-size corporate jets use Iridium systems, while the Inmarsat systems mostly prevail in the larger airframes. This is primarily due to the size of the antenna and the number of channels required on larger aircraft that carry more passengers. (The standard number of channels for Iridium is one to two while the Inmarsat systems can have up to seven channels.)
All similarities end when the subject of data communication is discussed.
Iridium serves well for tracking and monitoring of the aircraft’s position, but can fall short of the data rates needed for Internet, email and video streaming. Having held many discussions with customers about connectivity in the cabin I feel compelled to clarify some common misconceptions. Attractive marketing terminology combines Iridium with Short Burst Data (SBD), free text messages and Data link services, but all of these applications derive from services provided to pilots in the cockpit, not the cabin.
Iridium is limited to 2.4Kbps and has no feasible way to send and receive data. Iridium NEXT is a second generation constellation scheduled to begin launching in 2015 and I have attended forums where specific data rates have been discussed, but even the rates mentioned are not confirmed on their website.
For worldwide coverage and connectivity both in the air and on the ground, Inmarsat offers the best solution today: In early 2009, Inmarsat completed the repositioning on its three I-4 satellites, and introduced SwiftBroadband (SBB) to the world.
SwiftBroadband is an IP-based service that provides an “always on” data connection with speeds ranging from 200Kbps to 432Kbps per channel. Although two channels are allowed per installation, this simply increases the bandwidth, and does not double the speed (864Kbps) – a falsification I have seen in a few articles.