[Avionics Magazine 05-24-2016] The earliest announcements at the 2016 European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) have shown major avionics companies are seeing the greatest demand from the business aviation community centered around aircraft connectivity. While some of the industry's most well-known manufacturers of enhanced vision technology, aircraft weather radars and Flight Management Systems (FMS) all have traditional products on display at the event in Geneva, Switzerland, the majority are promoting their next generation connected aircraft technologies.
EBAA CEO Fabio Gamba welcoming attendees to EBACE 2016. Photo: EBAA.
The European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) EBACE exhibitor directory lists 27 total companies under its avionics manufacturers, distributors, dealers and service buyer's guide category for EBACE attendees. Out of those 27, only 12 manufacture hardware or develop software that can actually be installed on airframes. And out of those 12, nearly all of the tier-one and -two avionics suppliers are introducing new connected aircraft products, partnerships and other activities designed to provide a connected experience for passenger and operational use that matches what end users have become accustomed to on the ground.
The industry's two largest avionics names, Honeywell Aerospace and Rockwell Collins, for example, have each released updates about their connected business jet technologies at EBACE. Honeywell has a new software update for its AvioIP cabin router, which allows aircraft owners to tweak their aircraft network bandwidth depending on traffic usage and preference. Rockwell Collins' announced validation of network tests for Inmarsat's Jet Connex Ka-band high speed Internet service. Astronics Aerosat and Panasonic Avionics are also at EBACE, jointly promoting their partnership designed to combine Astronics' tail-mounted satellite communications solutions with Panasonic's global communications services to business and VVIP aircraft.
TrueNorth has also introduced its new Optelity Mobile bundle, comprised of its Optelity Pro Cabin Gateway and the Simphonē Mobile GSM systems.
Lower aftermarket business aviation demand for traditional cockpit-based avionics sales was recently reflected in the first quarter 2016 avionics market report
released by the Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA). The report shows business and general aviation avionics sales dropping by 3.5 percent compared to the first quarter of 2015. With demand for traditional technologies lower, avionics companies are looking to give business aviation operators what they want: high-speed, customizable connectivity.
"We see there is a big difference between how a commercial airline uses connectivity and how a business aviation operator uses connectivity," TrueNorth CEO Mark van Berkel told Avionics Magazine in a phone interview from Geneva ahead of the start of EBACE 2016. “For business aviation operators, it’s a productivity tool. There are really three things that people need to do on an airplane whether it’s in the cockpit or for the passengers: You need information, communication, and entertainment. For a business operator, the communication and information functions really outweigh the entertainment functions.”
All of the connected aircraft technology suppliers at EBACE are competing to provide business jet operators with new routers, antennas, and wireless access points, Internet service options and other products that can improve upon the type of connectivity that is already being operated on in-service business jets. These technologies include first and second generation connectivity systems with limited bandwidth and low-speed connectivity. Moreover, the existing technologies perform much better on business jets than in the cabins of large commercial passenger jets, where network access is shared by a much larger number of users.
Bombardier released its 10-year business jet delivery forecast ahead of EBACE, projecting demand for up to 8,300 new business jets valued at $250-billion between 2016 and 2025, a reduction in the demand projected in last year's forecast of 9,000 deliveries valued at $267 billion. With less demand for new airframes, private aviation operators, management companies and leasing firms have more incentive to consider retrofitting their existing aircraft with new technologies, especially when it comes to connectivity.
One aspect of the connected business jet that TrueNorth and its competitors are trying to resolve is future-proofing their products. This means preventing a need for aircraft connectivity to be completely replaced when deemed obsolete or out of date by new technology that comes available at a later date. Van Berkel says the company’s next generation connectivity solution, Optelity, seeks to address this demand.
"What we have promised to Optelity Pro operators that take advantage of Optelity Care, is that they will never have to worry about upgrading,” said van Berkel, referring to the company's service plan that ensures TrueNorth will provide options for operators to guarantee their aircraft is always equipped with a solution that matches the best possible technology available on the market. "We have made a promise that they will never be obsolete. If there is hardware to be upgraded, or software to be upgraded, they get it; it’s part of the package. So, TrueNorth are the ones worrying about the next technology that’s coming out and directors of maintenance are not."