[Avionics Magazine 08-24-2016] Inmarsat has issued Final Type Approval (FTA) for Honeywell Aerospace’s JetWave hardware, which enables broadband connectivity for aircraft under the new Global Xpress (GX) Aviation satellite network. Approval follows certification of the hardware by the FAA and EASA earlier this year
, clearing the way for entry into commercial service for the new equipment.
A picture of the JetWave hardware being installed on an aircraft. Photo: Honeywell Aerospace.
Honeywell received Inmarsat's FTA for the JetWave hardware on the Boeing 757 and Bombardier Global 5000 aircraft. The FTA on these aircraft allows the manufacturer to apply the approval to other aircraft models and types going forward.
"Up to this point we’ve done hardware testing, but the FTA tests the user interface and the passenger experience, so it’s really a functional test from the perspective of somebody sitting in the actual aircraft cabin. We have five or six different [Line Replaceable Units] LRUs, which are common across all platforms with the exception of the antenna, which varies between the aircraft size. As an example, for A350, we will take the FTA from the 757, update it for any changes in configuration, and then resubmit that for approval so each platform essentially gets a mini approval process going forward," James MacDougalll, director of marketing and product management for Honeywell Aerospace told Avionics Magazine.
The total JetWave package includes a Multi-Channel Satellite (MCS) terminal, antenna controller, modem and router hardware, and two different versions of a tail-mounted antenna — the MCS-8000 for the business aviation market and the MCS-8200 for commercial air transport aircraft.
An important feature that MacDougalll said was thoroughly evaluated during both the regulatory and FTA process is the dual receivers featured on the antennas. Inmarsat has three Ka-band High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) in orbit positioned to provide GX Aviation coverage worldwide. A fourth GX satellite is pending launch in late 2016 to provide additional GX capacity to meet growing demands. Each satellite carries 89 spot beams with up to 50 Mbps per beam. The dual receiver approach allows the antennas to transition between beams seamlessly.
"The antenna can talk to two different beams or two different satellites at the same time. How it works is that the antenna will be communicating with the first beam and transmitting data. When we’re approaching the point where we need to transition to a new beam, the antenna will locate that new beam, do its packet update and initiate a secure stable communication with that second beam and do all of its quality checks, before we break the connection with the original beam. That’s really the basis for the seamless transition. Other systems on the market today only have one receiver and so when you’re doing these transitions you have to let go of the first beam before you can go grab the next one," said MacDougall.
With Inmarsat's initial FTA cleared, Honeywell is now edging closer to seeing its JetWave terminal operated by airlines and business aviation operators on revenue flights. That also leads to anticipation for what type of connection speeds and performance passengers in crowded cabins using the same network can expect. MacDougall said Honeywell recently completed a six-week global proving tour of its JetWave hardware using GX Aviation and confirmed that the antenna operates at download speeds of up to 50 Megabits per second (Mbps). However, actual speeds experienced by passengers using the system in-flight will vary based on the data plans selected by individual operators.
MacDougall also discussed what types of initial cockpit and flight operational uses of JetWave and GX Aviation that the industry can expect to see enabled by the new hardware.
"An interesting example would be aircraft brake wear and tear. We produce carbon brakes, and that is a regular maintenance activity, that has to happen for virtually every airplane. It’s hard, unless you’re looking at the brake pads, which are extremely hard to see; you’re waiting for wear indicators and things to happen before you schedule maintenance to swap out brakes. With JetWave and GX Aviation, we can take our brake system and the Wi-Fi to create a connected brake. That way, as the brake is wearing down, airline maintenance and operations personnel will know, and they can schedule brake swaps proactively to minimize revenue downtime for the aircraft," he said.
As far as when to expect to see GX Aviation and JetWave actually being offered and operated on commercial flights, MacDougall said Honeywell expects the system to enter service very soon.
"Lufthansa Group has announced German Wings has started installation, and its first GX-enabled aircraft will be available for passenger use in a couple months. We also have the first A350 that’s about to be delivered from Airbus with line-fitted JetWave hardware. We also have other airlines taking delivery of new aircraft from Airbus and other airlines doing retrofits. We really expect to see the passengers starting to get their hands on the system in late Q3 of this year, going into early Q4," said MacDougall.