New Partnership Seeks to Offer Everything a Connected Aircraft Needs

By Woodrow Bellamy III | January 3, 2017
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[Avionics Magazine 01-03-2017] Avionica, GigSky and Ultramain have teamed up seeking to help aircraft operators improve their ability to track, report and extract data about aircraft technological malfunctions. Under a partnership announced in December, aircraft mobile data services provider GigSky and Electronic Logbook (ELB) software provider Ultramain are now jointly marketing their products and services. 

The December partnership announcement followed another announcement earlier in the year, a partnership between Avionica and GigSky. Going forward, the three companies see the partnership as bringing together services, capabilities and products that need each other to work in harmony. 

Ultramain Electronic Logbook 2.0 screen. Photo: Ultramain Systems.

Separately, all three U.S.-based companies specialize in providing hardware, software and data communications services that add an individual piece to the connected aircraft concept of operations. Avionica is a manufacturer of flight data and communications management hardware such as its mini Quick Access Recorder (QAR) and SatLink Iridium satellite data unit.

While Ultramain has been supplying Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) support products to the aviation industry for more than 30 years, one of its most notable contributions has been the replacement of aircraft paper flight logs with with its mobile ELB software, which provides a touchscreen interface that speeds communication between cockpit crews and ground maintenance teams. Prior to the use of ELB software, every technical glitch or problem on an aircraft was handled manually, by writing it down in a paper log that was then circulated to the correct aircraft maintenance technician once the aircraft landed. The use of ELB software has helped to automate that process.

GigSky has a global 3G/LTE network that provides mobile data communications services in more than 190 countries and territories, including Cuba. The company’s network has the ability to supply mobile data to support Electronic Flight Bag (EFB), Electronic Technical Log (ETL) and Wireless Quick Access Recorder (WQAR) deployment. Aviation operators can pay an annual fee for the service, avoiding cost impact from the amount of uploaded data. Last year, GigSky and Avionica announced their own individual partnership that allows operators of aircraft already equipped with the Avionica mini QAR to use GigSky’s global network to send their aircraft data to their internal flight operational maintenance back-end systems as soon as an aircraft lands.

Here’s how the three companies and their hardware and software will work together going forward. Avionica’s Communications Module (avCM) contains the GigSky SIM that provides global capabilities in more than 190 countries worldwide over GigSky’s ultra-reliable cellular data network. Avionica has been provided with the GigSky Global Enterprise Management (GEM) portal, which allows them to control access to data on every SIM in all of their communication devices. This portal also maintains a logical connection between the device serving the Electronic Log Book and the SIM that enables the data transfer over cellular network.

While GigSky’s cellular network can send data while the aircraft is on the ground, it does not enable real time aircraft data streaming. 

“Airborne aircraft will not use GigSky’s cellular network. It is only active when an aircraft is on the ground. Airborne aircraft would use the Avionica satellite connection,” Vikas Chand, vice president of global sales for GigSky told Avionics Magazine. 

To ensure, all data transmissions and sends are secure, Chand says the GigSky network uses mobile networks globally that feature a GSM or LTE cellular standard that requires a 128-bit encryption between the device and radio tower. 

“Once the data leaves the tower, it is passed along private telecommunications links from our local partner to the GigSky network in compliance with international mobile network standards. After transiting the GigSky network, data traffic will be passed to the public internet unless customer uses VPNs to access their home network content. GigSky’s Cloud Platform and Packet Core also undergo stringent periodic audits as part of the Security Activities calendar,” said Chand. 

Ultramain Systems Director of Flight Technologies Larry Lenamon, says the key functions Avionica and GigSky will provide for its ELB mobile electronic logbook software is onboard logbook data repository and air-to-ground and ground communications. The majority of Ultramain’s existing ELB implementations have been on aircraft with installed EFBs, such as the 787. Therefore, Lenamon sees the retrofit market as a focus for the partnership with Avionica and GigSky.

“The key functions that Avionica and GigSky provide for the ULTRAMAIN ELB mobile electronic logbook are onboard logbook data repository and robust air/ground and ground communications. This supporting infrastructure is significantly less costly (both upfront and ongoing) when compared to traditional installed EFBs and ACARS communications. It provides great flexibility to the operator in their ability to utilize a mix of mobile devices and refresh those devices as needed without additional expensive aircraft modifications,” said Lenamon. 

Avionica’s Onboard Network System (ONS), aviONS, is what enables the data repository capability that Lenamon refers to. The small box can not only host applications and data such as the ELB and its logbook reports, it has a built-in wireless access point that can serve as an onboard network for multiple users.

Demonstrations using Ultramain’s ELB software in conjunction with GigSky and Avionica’s products have already been completed.

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