5 Ways Technology is Improving for the Connected Business Jet

By Woodrow Bellamy III  | November 23, 2015
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[Avionics Today 11-23-2015] The 2015 NBAA convention and exhibition provided a major platform for Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), satellite-based broadband service providers, and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) companies, among others, to debut innovative new products, concepts and education on where the aviation industry is going. Throughout the course of the event, it was evident that the industry is entering the next generation of satellite and Air-to-Ground (ATG) aircraft connectivity where operators can get access to live data about their aircraft to improve the safety and efficiency of their operations. 

With more than 1,100 indoor exhibitors, nearly 100 business aircraft on static display, and more than 26,000 attendees, it’s difficult to sum the event up with one article. Here are five companies that presented innovative new concepts and provided updates about ongoing flight-testing of technology that will support the future evolution of the connected business jet.

The HondaJet on display at NBAA 2015. Photo: Woodrow Bellamy III.

Honeywell, Inmarsat

The amount of innovation and progress made around the concept of the connected business aircraft over the past year is remarkable, and was clearly on display in Las Vegas this year. Even Hollywood superstar William Shatner can attest to that, as he made an appearance at Bombardier’s press conference for the launch of the new Wireless Access Virtually Everywhere (WAVE) In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) service. WAVE is enabled by Honeywell’s JetWave hardware and Inmarsat’s Ku-band JetConnex satellite communication network, which Shatner used en route to the NBAA conference from California on a Global 5000 demonstration flight. Honeywell confirmed during NBAA that the service is capable of delivering speeds of 50 megabits per second (Mbps) to aircraft, and can be used operationally for the exchange of non-critical safety data between the aircraft and the ground.

During the Avionics Magazine Tech Breakfast, Honeywell Vice President of Safety and Connectivity, Jack Jacobs, also assured attendees that the JetWave and JetConnex capabilities are being developed with cyber security in mind. Honeywell constantly encourages its younger engineers to try to hack into the service provided by Honeywell and Inmarsat to test its encryption and security capabilities. 

Honeywell further expanded its aircraft connectivity offerings by announcing a new agreement for the acquisition of Denmark-based on-board communications routing software and satellite communications provider Satcom1. Tim Mahoney, president and CEO of Honeywell Aerospace, believes the “entire value chain” of aircraft connectivity to be an 8 billion market.

ViaSat, Jet Aviation St.

Jet Aviation St. Louis and ViaSat jointly announced a partnership at NBAA to develop a hybrid Ku/Ka-band radome for large cabin Gulfstream jets, beginning with the G550. ViaSat, in working with Jet Aviation St. Louis, will expand its advanced aviation materials and fabrication IP to build this tail-mounted Ku-/Ka-band radome. The radome will support both ViaSat’s 30 cm Ku-band antenna and its advanced Ka-band antenna separately or in a dual configuration. The partnership will support the development of the radome and an associated Supplemental Type Certificate (STC). 

Ken Peterman, senior vice president and general manager at ViaSat, also told Avionics Magazine that the company is focused on providing enough satellite capacity and network reliability so that 20 to 30 aircraft within the same spot beam can have 30 to 40 passengers in the cabin streaming YouTube videos, watching Netflix, etc. all while pilots in the cockpit are able to use the network separately for their Electronic Flight Bags (EFBs) applications. 

Peterman also said to stay tuned for the planned launch of the first ViaSat 2 satellite launch in 2016, as the company plans to become capable of delivering multi Gigabit per second speeds to the aircraft, with that of course being broken down into usage per device per user in the cabin or cockpit. 

Panasonic, Astronics 

Panasonic Avionics was also a major connected aircraft exhibitor at NBAA 2015 last week. During the show, Panasonic and Astronics AeroSat officially launched a new strategic partnership to deliver high speed connectivity and global live television programming to business jets. Under the partnership, Astronics will supply its tail-mounted satellite communications solution and Panasonic will provide its commercial aviation proven global communications services network through a single antenna for business jets. 

David Bruner, vice president of Panasonic’s global communications services division, told Avionics Magazine that the company had been waiting for the right opportunity to enter the business aviation market. The partnership with Astronics apparently provided that opportunity.

“Typically the antennas are mounted at the tail — the top of the tail for business aircraft — and they are very small, about 11.5 inches or so. At that size and that position it’s difficult to deliver high quality broadband to the airplane,” said Bruner. “But when Astronics showed us what they were testing and the performance capabilities, we knew this was the opportunity we had been waiting for.”

Bruner said one of the advantages to working with Aerosat is that the company has provided line fit antennas on many different legacy aircraft, so there will be many operators looking for upgrades that can get a simple drop-in replacement.

Outside of the antenna, Panasonic is also looking to provide exclusive bandwidth packages to operators in a way that Bruner says none of the competition is doing.

“Typically, when a business jet operator is signing up for service, they will quote a certain speed and its best efforts [but] sometimes you get that [and] sometimes you don’t. This type of customer doesn’t like that very much. So we are offering three different bandwidth levels that you are absolutely guaranteed that is the least you will receive. 1.5 mbps, 2 mbps or 4 mbps and that’s committed information rate, that’s the worst you will ever receive … You will actually, get more than that most of the time,” said Bruner.

SmartSky, AeroAntenna

SmartSky Networks President and Director Ryan Stone told Avionics Magazine that his company is also making a major push for the business aviation market. The company expects to beta-launch its 4G ATG network by the end of the year, and announced a partnership with AeroAntenna Technology as its antenna supplier. Additionally, Davinci Jets has become the first business aircraft management company to commit to equipping its fleet with SmartSky. TrueNorth Avionics also confirmed that its Optelity Cabin Gateway airborne router will be compatible with SmartSky as well.

The ATG network, which anticipates rollout of commercial service in 2016, claims to provide real-time business-grade connectivity with more than 10 times the typical speed and capacity of networks currently in the market by using 60 MHz of spectrum for its data communications. After more than five years of development, StandardAero is scheduled to provide Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approvals for the SmartSky system in 2016. 

Satcom Direct

Satcom Direct (SD) is looking to improve flight operations management and help more business aircraft operators go paperless through the use of an EFB application, and aircraft data link communications. At NBAA, the company launched the new SD FlightLogs application run through its FlightDeck Freedom datalink service to automatically track all aircraft movement and provide tagging of block times from Flight Management System (FMS) data. Once it captures the data, the Web-based electronic flight data logging application can then calculate and record flight cycle events and document all in-flight information leg by leg. 

Satcom Direct’s Product Manager for Flight Deck Services, Darell Herrera, says 90 percent of all Part 91 operators are still using paper for flight logs. The majority of those flight crews are also spending a lot of their time manually inputting data after completing a mission. SD’s system is Web-based and the company works directly with the avionics provided by the aircraft’s OEM, provided that the aircraft has data link. The company has developed its own logic to automate the capture of data points and provides a method for data to be streamed from the aircraft’s avionics suite through data links reports.

The information is transmitted via Inmarsat and/or Iridium satellite datalink communications or VHF datalink communications. Once all input data points are validated from the system’s movement reports database they are captured and displayed within SD’s web-based application.

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