In 2016, Silicon Valley-based private jet charter operator XOJET reported record sales of new programs, with more than 950 total sold, and expanded off-fleet brokerage operations, which increased 22% year over year. Now, the company is ready to upgrade its fleet with new in-flight connectivity technology and ADS-B and to expand geographically. XOJET is looking for an installer of its fourth-generation Gogo in-flight connectivity technology, while also considering new cabin management technology.
With a 24/7 operations center and a 2020 way of thinking about aircraft operations, XOJET is a rarity in the private jet charter business. It has focused on creating ease of access to its private jets with the swipe of an iPhone.
Avionics discussed with XOJET flight operations executives plans for new avionics and connectivity upgrades.
ADS-B and Aircraft Health Monitoring
In 2017, XOJET will begin the process of upgrading all 41 of its owned and operated Cessna jets with ADS-B. Based on FAA standards, XOJET’s Citation X uses a TSO-C145C Beta 1 global navigation satellite system receiver and 1203C transponder with compliance status certified for pairing with TDR-94D, RCZ-850D, TPR-91, XS-950 and GTX-330ES transponders under an STC solution type. Bombardier’s Challenger 300, XOJET’s other aircraft type, requires a TDR-94D P/N transponder with a GPS-4000S SBAS position source and is an approved model list ADS-B upgrade aircraft solution type.
Outside of ADS-B, the focus for avionics modification interest is situational awareness, said Dave Colbert, SVP of flight operations for XOJET.
“XOJET pilots currently have iPad minis, and we’re making sure that each one of them is installed with ForeFlight. We’re also providing individual GPSs for each iPad to enhance situational awareness on the ground,” said Colbert.
Other situational awareness considerations for XOJET could include real-time aircraft data downloading capabilities. Already, according to Colbert, the flight operational team uses the basic Challenger 300 avionics package to view “diagnostic codes in real time, in flight.” XOJET maintenance control also communicates with flight crews about any aircraft troubleshooting, even during flight.
“We’re talking to Bombardier about real-time data download capabilities,” said Colbert. “Bombardier is trying to lead the charge with regard to downloading or having the ability to see real-time information going on with the airplane. I think it’s still 24 months or more out on the generation of airplanes that we have, on the Challenger 300.”
XOJET is also interested in giving its aircraft maintenance team the ability to have access to real-time information about the health of aircraft systems and components. The flight operational team has seen the way Airbus aircraft are able to do this, while having replacement parts available at aircraft gates as soon as they land, and would like to do this for XOJET.
“If you look at an Airbus aircraft, an Airbus will download to their maintenance control with real-time information. Parts can be ordered, a part can be found at the gate when an airplane pulls in because of that technology,” said Colbert. “Obviously the way we’re structured with airplanes going to all parts of the country, we don’t have that luxury of having parts show up at a gate when a plane pulls in. But as near as we can get in a future state to having the ability to have a part on its way to an airplane before it lands because we know what’s wrong; that shortened span time increases the availability of the airplane and improves our ability to serve clients.”
Systems Operational Control Upgrades
XOJET’s Sacramento, California-based systems operational control center has 150 employees and operates 24/7. On a continuous basis, teams of maintenance professionals are both planning and administrating maintenance work, while flight operations analysts analyze weather and the feasibility of each XOJET aircraft trip. Aircraft schedulers manage the logistics around a floating fleet of 41 aircraft.
“In our systems ops center, we just introduced an advanced IBM weather forecasting,” said Colbert, adding that the company is “heavily invested in technology” that improves its “situational awareness and operational dispatch reliability.”
In 2016, that weather-forecasting technology had been greatly improved with IBM’s $2 billion purchase of The Weather Company, which fused IBM’s cloud and Watson smart-computing capabilities with The Weather Company’s traditional weather forecasting.
Every XOJET-operated flight also uses the Wi-Fi link on the aircraft to maintain live communication with the operations center to identify operational variables and implement solutions in real time. XOJET also notes that its safety management system features an adaption of quality assurance and control practices based on U.S. Air Force, Coast Guard and commercial airlines. Each of the more than 150 pilots flying XOJET business jets average more than 7,500 flight hours.
“We fly more hours annually per airplane than anybody else in the business. To shorten service time, we’re interested in technologies that enable real-time information flow,” said Colbert.
Mobile App Investment
In 2017, the biggest commercial investment expenditure for XOJET will actually exist in a combination of interior in-flight Wi-Fi hardware and software upgrades, along with a big leap into on-demand mobile app technology.
“Digital distribution is one of our significant areas of investment in 2017. We’re building an XOJET application for Preferred Access and Elite Access members, which will enable them to confirm an on-demand charter trip via the mobile application,” said Austin Schell, XOJET’s president of fleet operations.
XOJET also recently formed a partnership with JetSmarter, a new mobile application and web-based online marketplace for finding on-demand private jet charter flights. By downloading the JetSmarter app to their smartphones, members can get access to private jet flights in an on-demand nature. A quick search on the app produces options such as a flight from Baltimore to Atlanta within the hour for $420 per seat on an eight-seater Citation X; a trip from Geneva to Paris on a four-seater Citation Mustang costs $234 per seat. One caveat is that the flights must be confirmed by an aviation specialist and are not guaranteed.
Regardless, the innovative use of the on-demand Uber car-sharing-like experience of being able to confirm a private jet flight from a mobile phone application is the type of approach to on-demand flying that XOJET wants to continue to evolve.
A Silicon Valley Approach to In-Flight Connectivity
The use of high-speed Wi-Fi has become such a priority to XOJET passengers and pilots that an aircraft with malfunctioning Wi-Fi is pulled from operations and grounded for maintenance, according to Colbert. The company is investing in equipping its fleet with Gogo’s fourth-generation in-flight internet technology capable of enabling streaming video and audio in a business jet cabin, with multiple users connected to the router.
Located in the technology capital of the U.S., though, XOJET is aware that something faster is always in development.
“We’re looking at a five- to 10-year fleet plan, and the product that Gogo is offering now is going to be the best product available for the next two or three years,” said Colbert. “In three to four years, the Wi-Fi technology is going to be entirely different.”
On the current-generation air-to-ground system, passengers can make calls using text and voice over internet protocol using a Gogo app, though they’re not able to watch streaming video on mobile devices.
“We don’t have a footprint that can accept a satellite solution on our airplanes. So we’re utilizing the terrestrial products that are currently available today,” said Colbert.
XOJET has not yet selected an installer for Gogo Biz 4G, though its decision on a selection will be based on install cost and span time. The company expects to make its decision by the third quarter, and it will look to use more than one installation facility to optimize aircraft downtime for the modification.
Additionally, Colbert said the operations team is considering investing in a cabin management system giving passengers control over the cabin environment from their mobile phones. H said the maintenance for the cost of a $400 to $500 mobile device across 41 business jets is much more ideal than a $2,500 to $5,000 switching panel that’s hardmounted to the aircraft.
“There are several alternatives in the market that use the Wi-Fi network and a personal device onboard the airplane to control the cabin entertainment and the cabin controls,” said Colbert. “We’re seriously looking at that.” AVS