With deeper pockets and a clientele that delight in the having the latest technology at their finger tips, business jets are often ahead of the curve when it comes to technology adoption. But even with OEMs and operators driven to invest in and incorporate the latest in-flight connectivity systems onboard their planes, many feel weighed down by the lack of “blow you away” tech available.
“Essentially the goal that we have: a connection that is seamless, that can provide our customers with confidence in the system and works as if they were in their own home. The reality of it is, however, that it is a lot more complicated to install these systems on airplanes than it is in the home. The aviation industry is typically five to 10 years behind the home market on airplanes,” says Bethany Davis, program manager at Gulfstream Aerospace.
Considering the amount of satellite-based bandwidth and capacity that is coming available through new systems, such as Inmarsat’s GX Aviation and Gogo’s 2Ku network, we take a look at what type of IP-based and other forms of connectivity OEMs and operators are putting on aircraft. And with 10 new business jets scheduled to enter into service by 2020, many of which are currently well into flight testing and perfecting their operational envelopes, OEMs speak to what hardware and software they are looking to incorporate in order to facilitate connectivity on the next generation of business jets.
OEMs and business aviation operators are looking for a way to provide a home-like internet experience from gate to 39,000 feet and back again.
“Our experience tells us that business aircraft passengers value reliability, home-like internet speed and global coverage,” says Mathieu Noel, manager of product planning at Bombardier Business Aircraft.
Bombardier’s answer to this is the WAVE system, a Ka-band satellite Wi-Fi service available on Bombardier’s Global 5000 and 6000 aircraft models. WAVE, which stands for Wireless Access Virtually Everywhere, uses Inmarsat’s GX satellite network, enabled through Honeywell’s JetWave hardware. Honeywell recently completed a six-week global proving tour of its JetWave hardware using GX Aviation and confirmed that the antenna operates at download speeds of up to 50 Megabits per second (Mbps). However, actual speeds experienced by passengers using the system in-flight will vary based on the data plans selected by individual operators. Through the satellite-based system, Bombardier’s WAVE promises up to 15 Mbps and, according to Noel, can enable new capabilities such as streaming content, video conferencing, sending and receiving large files, and watching TV.
While the Canadian OEM aims for a home-like experience when offering connectivity options on its new and retrofitted business jets, Noel says that redundancy is what proves to be most technologically important.
“Our business aircraft are more connected than ever. For example, the Global 6000 aircraft can be connected to three independent satellite systems, with each their own satellite constellations. Our philosophy is to make this redundant backbone completely transparent so the passengers can interact with the aircraft exactly as they would interact with their home Wi-Fi,” says Noel.
The company is also looking to offer air-to-ground-based solutions, and recently announced an agreement with SmartSky Networks, an In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) provider that offers a network that uses 60 MHz of spectrum on an ATG platform to offer what they say is “full-throttle, unrestricted access to the web.”
“While satellite-based systems such as Bombardier WAVE are becoming increasingly superior and widespread, we believe that there is also a growing market for ATG-based systems. For example, customers flying mainly over the U.S. can significantly reduce their monthly Satcom services bill by installing an ATG system. These systems are significantly cheaper to operate and fulfill the connectivity needs of passengers travelling within the U.S.,” says Noel, noting that for some customers, ATG systems add an additional layer of connectivity redundancy.
Currently all Bombardier business aircraft can be equipped with an ATG system straight out of the Bombardier factory, while the Global 5000 stands as the first aircraft to receive linefit certification for the hardware that will connect it to the GX Aviation satellite network through Bombardier’s WAVE system.
Gulfstream also offers its customers a plethora of systems to choose from on its aircraft, including Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband, which is an L-band system, ViaSat’s Ku-band Yonder system, ATG system Gogo Biz 3G as well as an Iridium system and satellite television direct broadcast. Despite the abundance of options, Gulfstream Program Manager Bethany Davis believes the real game-changing in-flight connectivity technology is perpetually on the horizon.
“We are seeing some really exciting options coming on the market in the next 12 to 24 months through both satellite and air to ground that we are looking at that will meet the customer demand even better than what we have available today,” says Davis.
She believes that internet speeds and how quickly technology can change and adapt on the aircraft is keeping the aviation market lagging behind consumer products.
“On the ground you have the physical cable. They run fiber to homes and offices. We are having to do that at Mach 0.90 around the world, and there isn’t a cable or line that hooks to your airplane, so it’s all wireless and satellite. Satellites take a long time to build, launch and get ready, and then there is the whole element of the ground infrastructure. Even for air-to-ground systems, infrastructure requires a lot of investment. Also, the home office marketplace is significantly larger than that for business jets.,” Davis says.
The company is capitalizing on the availability of cockpit connectivity, however, particularly in the form of Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) options for operators. Gulfstream recently launched the next phase of an iPad EFB application that will help operators streamline flight operations. The Planebook app looks to enable a Gulfstream G650 or G650ER flight crew to calculate performance data for the take-off and landing phases of flight in place of paper charts and manual calculations.
According to Davis, the OEM has also been using connectivity to improve maintenance operations for over 10 years by enabling onboard system monitoring through its PlaneConnect technology on its G450 and G550 aircraft. There is also a Health and Trend Monitoring (HTM) system onboard the G650 and G650ER, which anticipates when a part or component may need maintenance and sends the appropriate alert to its land-based operator technician. Both are enabled through an Iridium link.
“For PlaneConnect, through a datalink connection, the central maintenance computer downloads off of the aircraft all of the maintenance items and if there are any faults, it will notify either the operator or the Gulfstream team so we can dispatch parts,” explains Davis. “If there is a fault on some component we can dispatch people and parts to replace or repair it before the airplane even lands.”
Delta Private Jets (DPJ) has the unique problem of looking to equip its 70-plus aircraft fleet, with a mix of different aircraft types, with connectivity onboard nearly 100 percent of aircraft. “We have most of every business jet in our fleet segments,” says David Sneed, executive vice president and chief operating officer of DPJ. And while the company operates 21 different aircraft in its private jet fleet, DPJ has chosen to equip all aircraft with the Gogo ATG 5000 system, which relies on air-to-ground connectivity.
Delta’s mainline commercial fleet is outfitted with Gogo as well. While the commercial fleet is in the process of moving to Gogo’s satellite offering, 2Ku, which came online just this year, the private aviation fleet is moving to Gogo’s latest ATG system, Gogo Biz 4G.
“Predominantly today the fleet is equipped with the Gogo ATG 5000 system, which is the top-end system that Gogo has today, but there are inherent limitations to that system that will be removed when the new 4G broadband system is put into market,” says Sneed.
The 4G system is slated for install beginning in the first quarter of 2017 and promises much more capability than the current system, which encounters bandwidth limitations, Sneed says. ATG 5000 system claims speeds of up to 3.1 Mbps, which DPJ hopes to increase as it looks to upgrade to the 4G system, which could signal a jump to peak speeds of 9.8 Mbps, according to Gogo. Theoretically, this will enable everything from the ability to send email attachments to streaming video — long hailed as the Holy Grail for in-flight Wi-Fi.
“With today’s technology, the system is not capable of doing all of the things that our customers are accustomed to doing on the ground,” says Sneed. “This new system from Gogo will bring to the aircraft a completely different level of capability and sophistication.” AVS