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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Avionica CEO Sees GA, Rotocraft Presenting New Satcom Opportunities

Woodrow Bellamy III 

[Avionics Today 01-14-2015] Avionica is looking to take its latest satellite communications system, the satLINK MAX, to new segments of air transportation including rotorcraft and General Aviation (GA) — markets the company feels have previously not provided opportunities for satcom applications. After announcing United Airlines as the launch customer for the satLINK Max satellite communications system last year, Avionica CEO Raul Segredo says these two new markets will be receptive to their four-pound, four-channel Iridium high power transceiver. 
Avionica's satLINK MAX and avPM with Multi Control Display Unit (MCDU). Photo: Avionica.
The satLINK MAX is an Iridium-based Air Traffic Services (ATS) satellite communications system designed to support data link communications between pilots and Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs), as well as emerging Onboard Network System (ONS) requirements for Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs), Quick Access Recorders (QAR) and Aircraft Data Loaders (ADL), among others. This is the second-generation version of the satLINK MAX, which features a significant weight reduction from the legacy version. Segredo sees this as possibly being attractive to general aviation and rotorcraft operators. 
"Our four-channel transceiver weighs less than 4 lbs and as such we believe it’s applicable to helicopter applications and general aviation applications that we have historically not addressed," Segredo told Avionics Magazine. "Those are markets that we’re engaging in now because of the light weight and high performance nature of satLink MAX — it’s about half the weight of our old system."
In 2014, Avionica received a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) from the FAA to install satLINK MAX on Boeing 777s. United Airlines was announced as the 777 launch customer for the satLINK MAX, as the solution is designed to address airlines' data connectivity challenges. One of the primary incentives driving United to install the satLINK MAX across their 777s, is that the system supports Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC), along with worldwide aircraft position reporting. These capabilities are especially useful on the airlines' routes that cross the North Pole. 
Icelandair is also using the satLINK MAX on its fleet of Boeing 757s, where the system is integrated with a weather sensor. The airline is “collecting atmospheric weather data and transmitting it over satcom for the benefit of everybody traveling over the North Atlantic," Segredo said. 
Avionica also purposefully built the satLINK MAX to be expandable with the ability to address emerging ONS requirements that could also make the system transferrable to those GA and rotorcraft operators that the company has not had much engagement with.
"The satLink MAX is expandable, and we’re currently expanding its functionality to include broadband data capability primarily for the crew communications so that the crew can receive in-flight weather maps and dispatch documentation manifests that are just too bulky, too big data-wise to get through the ACARS facilities that are already there," said Segredo. "The other thing that we’re currently focused on is finding new markets.”
Helicopter operator needs for satellite communications in missions such as search and rescue and air medical operations could present a vibrant market for Avionica's satLINK MAX. During a recent interview with Avionics Magazine, Brian Pemberton, executive director for aviation and maritime at Iridium, said the heavy rotorcraft segment provides an "addressable market of more than 10,000 aircraft worldwide." Pemberton believes the different mission types across the helicopter industry provide a variety of opportunities for companies like Iridium and Avionica to address. 

"The oil and gas industry is very big; that’s more for [Health and Usage Monitoring Systems] HUMS data, [Air Medical Evacuation] medevac would [also] be a big one. There are some opportunities we think might be in border security or border patrol, where you can put a camera on the helicopter and stream live video or low resolution or medium resolution; that could be really interesting from a rotorcraft environment,” Pemberton said. "Last I would point to the VIP. What they might do is bring an iPad or mobile phone onboard and the OpenPort provides them enough connectivity that they could do email, maybe a little more Web browsing-type applications while in flight. Those are some of the key applications and opportunities we see today." 

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