After various fits and starts, corporate aviation’s "office in the sky" seems ready to take off.
The journey towards the elusive airborne workplace–bringing the same business tools to airborne executive travelers as they enjoy in their offices and homes–has been fitful but finally appears to be making headway. And it is long overdue.
"Internet and e-mail applications, all those things we enjoy in the office and at home–you were not able to do that in a $40-million business airplane. Now we are able to do that," exclaims Raymond Larkin, sales and marketing director for Ottawa-based EMS Technologies.
Despite talk of broadband technology using Ku-band satellites with high-speed data rates of up to 2 megabits/sec (Mbits/sec), most of these offerings have stalled because of regulatory or technical issues. So it’s not broadband that is delivering e-mail and Internet access to business executives. Instead, it’s the latest version of conventional L-band satellite service offered by Inmarsat, combined with advanced high-speed data transceivers, airborne servers and wireless cabin access to laptop computers.
Although the race is far from over, one team seems to have taken the lead in office-in-the-sky technology. Teledyne Controls, with EMS Technologies, is offering a high-speed data product, the HSD-128, which is flying in a handful of bizjets. In fact, the two companies have received more than 80 orders for the system from major modification centers and business aircraft manufacturers, according to Matthew Wing, Teledyne Communications and Cabin Products marketing director.
Installations have been completed on seven aircraft, including the Gulfstream IV and V, Bombardier Challenger CL-604, Dassault Falcon 900EX and Falcon 50. Other systems are being installed, Wing adds. The Teledyne/EMS satcom system provides dual-channel data communication at rates up to 128 kilobits/sec (Kbits/sec), along with two telephony options, using Inmarsat’s new Swift64 service.
Live airborne Internet and e-mail services are reputed to compare favorably with home and hotel offerings for business travelers. (Last April, Insmarsat announced the commercial availability of its Swift64 mobile service, with connection speeds slightly faster than a home user’s modem.)
The Teledyne/EMS system also is being used by the U.S. military, and has application to the air transport market. It is the only dual-channel, 128-Kbit/sec system available commercially, Teledyne says.
The key element of a complete cabin communications system, which Teledyne calls its Smart Cabin Office Suite, is the HSD-128 high-speed data terminal, developed and manufactured by EMS and sold and supported in the business aircraft market by Teledyne. This element enables the connectivity that provides high-speed data communication on business jets.
The system is housed in a single line replaceable unit (LRU) 8-MCU box. It provides air-to-ground data and voice connectivity through the Inmarsat 3 satellite constellation. The system offers two types of digital voice calls: one that approximates radio broadcast quality and a lower-cost type called "Mini-M Aero."
HSD-128 allows the user to dial directly into the Internet, browse the Web, or access the corporation’s own intranet or private network, to transfer files or obtain company e-mail messages. Business executives also can access the Internet by first connecting with the private intranet, thus providing "firewall" security." (This feature is popular because some company executives prefer not to be identified or have their business interests known by others, Wing says.)
Offering both voice and data services over the two Swift64 channels, the HSD-128 provides a stand-alone service, but also can supplement an existing satcom system. "For those bizjet operators who don’t require a ‘full up’ satcom system–people who primarily want data–we’re offering a single-box solution," says Jody Glasser, senior director of advanced technology for Teledyne Controls.
Many business aircraft operators fly only in North America and are equipped with air phone systems rather than satcom, he explains. "They do want high-speed data on their airplanes. This system is satcom, but you can add a very minimal set of components–the 8-MCU box and the antenna system you need. It’s a simpler installation, weighs less, and certainly costs less." The list price for the Teledyne/EMS HSD-128 system is $182,000.
Three components of the HSD–the satellite data unit (SDU), control processor and interface to the antenna–are combined into the single 8-MCU box that is the exact size but lighter than one housing a power amplifier alone on other satcom systems, Glasser claims. Other satcom systems require an independent high power amplifier, a separate satellite data unit and separate high-speed data box.
The system "has done well from the beginning," EMS’ Larkin says, "because you can remove the high power amplifier from an [ARINC 741] satcom system, replace that with our 8-MCU unit, and it will give you one or two channels of high-speed data. And the high power amplifier [in the unit] continues to support voice communications. You don’t have to put in a second system for high-speed data on the aircraft." The Teledyne/EMS offering dramatically increases data communications speeds from the currently accepted 9.6 Kbits/sec (achieved with radio-telephony or Aero H satellite systems) to 128 Kbits/sec, available worldwide on the combined channels.
The HSD requires a high-gain satcom antenna that can be provided by EMS–whose AMT-50 is typically tail-mounted inside the radome–or by other suppliers, including CMC Electronics, Racal and Ball Aerospace. The system also can share an already installed Aero H-type satcom antenna.
The antenna requirement limits these HSD systems to the high-end business jet market. But Teledyne feels that, with the number of these aircraft in service growing, more planes will need high-speed data. EMS has been an early leader in high-speed data satcom. Its first production HSD system flew last November on an Air Force VC-135 command post aircraft. The system was installed and test flown on a Challenger CL-604 in April 2002, leading to unrestricted access by Inmarsat in June 2002. (A single-channel version of the system, the HSD-64 [offering 64 Kbits/sec] also is available and has been sold to the military by EMS.)
Los Angeles-based Teledyne handles technical service, sales, installation and maintenance for the HSD systems on the commercial side. Duncan Aviation, in Teterboro, N.J., and Chrysler Pentastar, Detroit, are leading installers of the system, along with OEM completion centers, such as Dassault’s Falcon facility in Little Rock, Ark.
A second component of Teledyne’s Smart Cabin Office Suite, essential for high-speed communications links, is the new CommServer, provided by Miltope Corp., Hope Hull, Ala. The network file server enables users to access e-mail and the Internet, supporting the connectivity of multiple PCs.
"If 15 people have laptop computers, they will be able to hook into the onboard network, be able to share information and all have access to the high-speed data link," Wing expounds. (In a recent system trial, one executive dialed into his company’s private network, retrieved a file and had it sent to his associate sitting next to him on the jet. This took less than five minutes.)
The CommServer, to be available this fall, also provides connection to the MagnaStar phone system and a wireless GroundLink system. (The latter system combines cellular and Internet technology to transmit lower-priority e-mails and data files once the aircraft is on the ground.)
The wireless access service point (WASP), also supplied by Miltope, provides a wireless Ethernet link between a user PC and the server, allowing users to communicate over the high-speed data link. (This service requires a wireless Ethernet card in the computer.)
The best-known element of the Smart Cabin Office Suite is Teledyne’s trademarked MagnaStar telephony system. Operated in conjunction with Verizon Airfone (formerly GTE), the system–originally developed by Magnovox–is installed on more than 2,500 business aircraft.
In addition to using the air-to-ground system, MagnaStar has interfaces to Aero H and Aero I satcom systems, for oceanic use. An advanced PBX (public branch exchange) internal telephone system allows business travelers to talk seat-to-seat or to access an onboard fax machine.
A new interface unit called MITA (MagnaStar ISDN [integrated services digital network] terminal adapter) provides a connection from all MagnaStar handsets, allowing them to communicate over the HSD system. MITA is expected to be available this month. There are two voice modes–one providing full 64-Kbit/sec digital voice, described as "broadcast quality," and a less expensive, 3.1-Kbit/sec "Mini-M Aero" mode.
"So if you’re airborne, and have our HSD system with MITA and Magnastar, you can select from broadcast-quality voice, Aero M voice or Verizon Airfone, if you are over North America," Wing says. "You can use one channel for data and one for voice, or both for data, if you choose."
Rockwell Collins also offers a high-speed data update for corporate aircraft in conjunction with its existing satcom system. Collins’ HST-900 high-speed transceiver was demonstrated this spring in a ground trial over Inmarsat’s Swift64 network.
The system will be available this month. Several customers have been lined up but not announced, according to Chris Evans, Collins’ high-speed data products marketing manager. The add-on to its current satcom is a 2-MCU box, weighing 8.5 pounds (3.8 kg), which will provide 64 Kbits/sec of connectivity when linked to the Collins SAT-906 satcom’s 60-watt high power amplifier. The HST will share use of the satcom’s antenna. "This will provide customers access to their corporate e-mail and the capability to do Internet browsing. It adds a high-speed data channel to the existing satcom’s six Aero H channels," Evans says.
The user’s laptop can be wired directly to the HST by an Ethernet connection, or multiple users with laptops can connect to a wireless access point, or antenna, inside the aircraft, and from there connect to the HST.
Rockwell Collins initially is targeting its HST marketing efforts at high-end users who already have the Collins satcom installed on Falcon 2000, Challenger 604, Global Express and Gulfstream IV and V bizjets. Some 250 business jets are equipped with SAT-906s, Evans says. But Collins sees the many users who have not yet selected a satcom as candidates for the complete system, including the HST-900.
"There are new players in the market, where having a telephone isn’t enough," says Tim Rayl, advanced products director for Collins’ Business and Regional Group. "So to have telephony with data makes a much more compelling business case for them [to add a satcom system]."
Two different modes of service will be offered for customers of the new high-speed data service. With "circuit mode," the user has exclusive use of a channel but is charged whether data is actually sent.
With new "packet mode service," multiple users share the same channel and are charged only for data actually sent or received. On corporate aircraft, it is more economical to use the packet mode, unless sending a large file, and it is a more efficient use of bandwith, enabling Inmarsat to support more users, Evans says.
Rockwell Collins’ announced intention to acquire AirShow–the closing was anticipated by early September–is expected to further expand the company’s business aviation portfolio. Airshow, in Tustin, Calif., has been working on a proposed 144-Kbit/sec data system using the Globalstar satellite constellation.
Honeywell also offers a high-speed data solution, using Inmarsat Swift64. Last April, Honeywell demonstrated capabilities such as video conferencing on board its Citation V, using the CMA-2102 antenna.
The Honeywell/Thales HS-600 high-speed data unit, like the Collins HST-900, must operate in conjunction with a satcom system. Honeywell and Thales recently announced that Gulfstream will offer the HS-600 on its Gulfstream IV and IV-SP, as well as on its ultra-long range Gulfstream V and V-SP aircraft. Retrofits are available through Gulfstream service centers.
A Less-Expensive Alternative
Connectivity provider Tenzing has developed a less expensive alternative to other high-speed data systems for business aviation, with a "slimmed down" version of its standard e-mail and messaging software used on commercial airliners (November 2001, page 30).
Already flying on two corporate aircraft, a Dassault Falcon and an Airbus Corporate Jet (ACJ), the narrowband system includes an onboard sever that "hooks into the radios [either satcom or telephony]," explains John Wade, Tenzing executive vice president. A half dozen more systems are on order for the Global Express, to be installed at Bombardier’s completion center.
Tenzing does not sell to the business aviation market, but works through "resellers," Wade explains. "Whereas there are 100 major airlines with 4,000 aircraft of interest, there are about 4,000 bizjets, operated by several hundred operators. We can’t get the resources to talk to several hundred operators, so we use resellers to do that.
"We license our applications to the resellers and they provide turnkey solutions to operators," he adds. "They provide the server, the software and support. They understand the customer, and can provide our software with their existing suite of cabin products."
Baker Electronics, Sarasota, Fla., is Tenzing’s first reseller for the corporate market. Known for cockpit audio control panels and cabin entertainment and management systems, the company supplies the hardware for the business aircraft systems and handles sales and billing.
"We provide the server and Tenzing provides the software that tells the communication system to dial down through the phone or satcom system and pick up e-mail messages," explains Jason Yates, Baker’s marketing manager.
A high-speed Ethernet connection links the user’s laptop to the server. The server holds all e-mails on its hard drive until the next, user-defined 15- or 30-minute interval and then dials down, sends the e-mails from the aircraft, and picks up inbound ones.
"Every 15 minutes, the server is dialing down and updating the info. It makes an otherwise useless 2.4-9.6-Kbit/sec service [the normal rate for Aero H satcom or telephony] usable," Yates maintains. The system could also operate wirelessly, and this is being explored, he adds. The Tenzing/Baker system also provides news, business and sports information.