Globalstar Sees Connected Aircraft Opportunities in GA Market

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | July 24, 2015
Send Feedback

[Avionics Today 07-23-2015] While the commercial airline world has an abundance of In-flight Connectivity (IFC) solutions and technologies available, IFC providers and manufacturers are still trying to find the sweet spot for aircraft connectivity in the lower end of the General Aviation (GA) market. During the 2015 Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) AirVenture show, spanning July 20-23, satellite-based aircraft connectivity provider Globalstar introduced several innovative technologies specifically designed to provide operators of older GA Part 23 airplanes with an opportunity to connect their aircraft from nose to tail with minimal integration into the actual airframe. 
A Cessna 195 at the 2015 EAA AirVenture show in OshKosh, Wis. Photo: EAA. 
The Covington, La.-based manufacturer is awaiting approval for Part 23 aircraft for its aviation antenna. The system, when paired with its GSP-1700 mobile satellite phone and Sat-Fi in-flight Wi-Fi hot spot device, can effectively provide a connected aircraft experience to operators of older Part 23 airplanes without a costly, lengthy retrofitting process, according to the company. 
“Basically, we’re able to provide all of the satellite communication that a GA pilot or operator would need to make phone calls, get weather updates, or send emails,” Elliott Borenstein, aviation products manager for Globalstar, told Avionics Magazine. “Cirrus, Cessnas, Pipers, Beechcraft, Barons, that class of aircraft, is what we’re aiming for with these solutions. This is an inexpensive way for owners of that class of aircraft to add the use of Wi-Fi to their flying experience, whether they’re flying recreationally or for business.” 
Globalstar’s Sat-Fi box essentially serves as a mobile Wi-Fi access point inside of the aircraft, running over the company’s satellite network, which can be powered by a cigarette lighter, according to Borenstein. Over land and water, up to eight users within the aircraft can connect to the Sat-Fi device via the iOS and Android application that Globalstar has made available in the Google and Apple app stores. The combination of the box and the app also provides users with the ability to make phone calls and send text messages. 
Borenstein said he expects approval for the new aviation antenna for non-pressurized Part 23 aircraft within the next 1 to 2 months. 
However, while the combination of the satellite phone, Sat-Fi hot spot box and aviation antenna provide GA pilots with an in-flight mobile information cockpit system, Borenstein admits that pilots shouldn’t expect the same type of data speeds as they would expect while surfing the Internet on the ground. The connection speed for the Sat-Fi box is just 9.6 kilobits per second (kbps), which is quite slow compared to the average speeds users typically experience on the ground. Though Globalstar does point out that comparatively Iridium’s Go mobile hot spot device, which offers similar functionality, tops out at 2.4 kbps. 
“Even though our data rate is 9.6 kbps, we have a special browser for the Android and the iPhone, and then it goes to a special compression point,” said Borenstein. “It’s not going to be an easy thing to surf the Web. It gives you the opportunity to use certain optimized weather sites, upload small content pictures at 50 kb per frame, and saves a little time compared to other solutions when sending emails.”
Regardless of the connection speed though, Globalstar certainly saw demand at AirVenture for bringing innovative Wi-Fi and calling options to non-pressurized —and eventually pressurized — Part 23 operators, as the company added eight new dealers for its connected aircraft solutions during the show. Borenstein said with so many older GA airplanes still flying, and operators just looking for lower usage of the Internet and also the ability to make phone calls with more clarity, the demand at the lower end of the GA market is there. 

“We own the satellites; it’s our constellation. We just finished launching our second generation satellites which have been up and running for about 1 to 1.5 years and they are all in the right position to provide coverage where there is heavier usage of Part 23 aircraft,” said Borenstein. “That is why we’re coming out with this now, and in the future we’ll be offering even greater data speeds.” 

Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox