Interviews with executives at Vista Global, Collins Aerospace and SES provide an in-depth look at how a new service dedicated to business jet in-flight connectivity is going to disrupt the way private charter operators are using high speed internet connections in the air and on the ground.
A disruptive new in-flight connectivity service, LuxStream, has been established by Collins Aerospace in partnership with SES that will provide speeds up to 25 Mbps in the United States and 15Mbps globally via SES's managed Ku-band satellite network exclusively to business aviation operators.
The service will require the installation of new antennas, control units, converters, modems and wireless access points among other electronics across 116 business jets operated by Vista Global — the launch customer for LuxStream. Upgrades will start with the 36 Bombardier Global 5000s and 6000s and then roll out to their fleet of Challenger 350s, 605s and 850s. Eventually, the new equipment will also be installed across a fleet of 43 Cessna Citation X and Challenger 300s operated by XOJET, which was acquired by Vista Global in 2018.
“We have a very tight deadline of rolling it across the entire Vista Global fleet over the next 24 months,” VistaJet Chief Operating Officer Nick van der Meer told Avionics International. “It’s incredibly high bandwidth, which means that you can stream more devices at the same time, we were very much looking forward to getting this on board. It's going to replicate what people have in their homes and in their offices, offering them a boardroom in the sky.”
Deploying LuxStream will enable new connectivity capabilities both from a passenger experience and pilot and maintenance perspective for Vista Global. One of the cabin in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) advances from LuxStream highlighted by van der Meer is the ability to stream Netflix in 4K, or ultra-high definition, in the cabin.
Collins Aerospace will play a major role in the deployment and operation of LuxStream. The ARINCDirect business aviation solutions division of Collins will manage the services-oriented aspect of LuxStream, selling airtime to operators and managing subscriptions and activation of connectivity-enabled applications for passengers and flight crews.
The timing of the partnership between Collins and SES to launch LuxStream also aligned well with what van der Meer cites as Vista Global’s company strategy to refresh their avionics every five years.
“If you go back seven to eight years, very, very few of our aircraft had internet on board, let alone high-speed internet. Then we equipped the Global 6000 fleet with SwiftBroadband and slowly equipped the Challenger 350s and 605s with SwiftBroadband, and in the U.S., we equipped all of our aircraft with Gogo Biz,” van der Meer said. “That was about five years ago that we made that big investment and now is the right time to make another investment worth tens of millions of dollars to drive it forward and to provide the luxury in the sky that our passengers are demanding.”
The launch of LuxStream and the availability of higher-speed connection in the air will also create opportunity for Vista Global’s IT infrastructure and digital network on the ground. In April 2019, Vista Global acquired JetSmarter, which was first launched in 2012 as a charter flight booking smartphone application providing users with the ability to buy private jet flights within as little as six hours without being a member of a typical charter carrier’s regular customer base.
JetSmarter has now been transformed into the XO application, allowing private aviation passengers to choose membership options, request on-demand seats for shared flights and provide a centralized internal and customer-facing platform for every digital transaction that Vista Global needs on the ground and in the air. As the global private charter operator continues to integrate LuxStream into its operations, more opportunities arise to create new internal and passenger-facing high-speed connectivity applications.
“We’re putting a lot of time and energy into developing the first true aviation marketplace under the XO platform,” van der Meer said. “There's all sorts of great features in there in terms of once the passengers are onboard, obviously they could connect through that app, but when they connect to the central Wi-Fi system on board, the XO system will present them with a lot of new features.”
LuxStream’s faster connection speed will open up new capabilities for Vista Global pilots and maintenance technicians as well.
“We've worked closely with Collins Aerospace to design a specific cabin router, which will disseminate the Wi-Fi signal throughout the cabin. But it will also be working with the crew on the operations side, working with a back office to give us more accurate data on all elements of these aircraft. If it's fuel onboard, if it's accurate takeoff times, accurate landing times, logging everything that the crew are doing, downloading the quick access recorder or downloading the black box to a ground station constantly so that we can do our flight data monitoring reviews almost in real time,” van der Meer said.
Collins and SES: The Service, Technology Behind LuxStream
The launch of LuxStream will see both Collins Aerospace and SES establish a new type of in-flight connectivity service completely dedicated to the business aviation market, something neither company has ever done before. That includes the establishment of a service that is completely dedicated to business aviation.
The onboard equipment that will enable LuxStream weighs a combined 51 pounds, and includes the following:
LeAnn Ridgeway, vice president and general manager of the avionics and information management services division of Collins Aerospace said the LuxStream router makes their ARINCDirect dashboards and applications available to operators so that they can monitor their usage, billing cycles and the type of data downloads and uploads they want to manage from a passenger and operations perspective.
“Operators will have the ability to purchase on a monthly fixed fee or per megabit usage, and the exciting thing about that is we will offer the same high speeds for all the customers, regardless of the type of plan that they purchase,” Ridgeway said.
Right now, Collins is working on supplemental type certification programs across several different business jet models including the Gulfstream GIV, all of the Bombardier Global models and eventually Dassault’s Falcon 7X.
“We have a proof of concept prototype flying right now, and we expect to have the hardware completed by the fourth quarter of this year,” Ridgeway said, adding that she expects first installations of the new equipment to begin by the first quarter of 2020.
On the SES side of the LuxStream equation, the satellite service provider will leverage the more than 70 satellites it currently operates in both geostationary and medium earth orbits. The most recent satellite launched by SES, the SES-15 Ku-band satellite, provides coverage over North America and is also the reason why LuxStream will enable the faster 25 Mbps speed for business jets flying in U.S. airspace, versus 15 Mbps internationally.
John Paul Hemingway, the CEO of SES Networks, said the company started working with Collins a year ago on the concept of LuxStream, which will operate differently than the business model SES currently uses to sell satellite capacity to some of the industry’s largest aviation service providers, including Panasonic Avionics, Gogo, Global Eagle and Thales.
“From the outset, we found a really good set of alignment of interests with Collins,” Hemingway said. “We knew Collins was looking for something slightly different from what we’re doing in the commercial aviation market. So instead of megahertz, which is how the wholesale market works, we use our global IP network and we take the megahertz from a satellite and convert that into the speeds on the aircraft themselves and Collins provides the technology around the antennas, the router, and server on the aircraft and they take those megabits and deliver them to the passengers.”
Even as the new business aviation service comes online next year, SES wants to use its next generation satellite constellation, O3b mPOWER, to provide increased capacity to airlines for in-flight connectivity, while also considering how to establish a new end-to-end business model that partners aviation and ground-based internet service providers.
The satellite service provider is in the midst of launching seven satellites for O3b mPOWER by 2021 in a medium earth orbit (MEO) constellation. The new constellation will have 30,000 fully shapeable and steerable beams that can be maneuvered in real time to adjust to changing bandwidth needs.
Whereas the current Ku-band satellites operated by SES will enable LuxStream, 03b mPOWER will be a Ka-band satellite constellation.
“We’re working with a lot of technology partners now to look at either a Ka-band antenna or even a hybrid Ku/Ka antenna,” Hemingway said. “So we'll continue to work with these technology vendors to make sure they're driving the right performance on those. And then of course we can start to migrate and upgrade the services on LuxStream with the O3b and O3b mPOWER capabilities.”
As the two companies prepare for LuxStream to go live on passenger carrying flights, the SES networks operations center has been coordinating evaluation and testing of the network.
“We're really going over, all the design work with an awful lot of flight path and capacity planning and we’re now tuning up the network to make sure that it covers where these aircraft will fly,” Hemingway said. “We've done some tests, which have been fantastic, and now we need to really make sure that the operational flow between Collins and ourselves and onto their customers is really seamless. That last piece is where we're really focused for the next few months.”