Cabin avionics, communications and evolution of high-speed data
Legacy system improvements and new OEM cabin installations take advantage of satellite upgrades.
Inmarsat continues to expand the broadband market and has invested in 4th-generation satellites to further increase capability. Inmarsat relies on Ku-band and L-band satellites, which have sufficient transponders for lease and growth through the 2012-15 timeframe. Building a new constellation of spacecraft from scratch is expensive, and the overall market remains relatively small for all aeronautical users. Inmarsat and others have leveraged numerous markets to gain a competitive advantage in airborne communications. These 4th-generation satellites fly in geosynchronous equatorial orbit and will bring about a 16-fold increase in Inmarsat's traffic-bearing capacity on its network. Most of that capacity will be Internet protocol (IP)and ISDN.
EMS Satcom System 6 3800 CCU antenna and HSD467 cabin gateway use Inmarsat for full connectivity, including VOIP and ISDN.
This initiative will reduce controller workload in already dense airspace and pave the way for the impending Single European Sky Air Traffic Management Research (SESAR) program, which is due to be operational by 2020-roughly the same time as ADS-B stateside.
This European initiative has put pressure on FAA to ensure that Links 2000+ aircraft are compatible with FANS 1-equipped aircraft in the US, and classification of such accommodations are under review by both parties. Central to both of these goals is the use of Inmarsat communications. Global integration is vital and will be the prime consideration.
A sampling of current providers
Service provider Thrane & Thrane offers an Inmarsat-based communication system for smaller applications with light weights and full functionality.
Its latest offering-Aero HSD+-is designed for business aircraft and helicopters, with considerable focus on flexibility, size and weight. EMS Satcom has several offerings that provide service through both CNS/ATM resources and SwiftBroadband.
They compete with voice over Internet protocol (VOIP), ISDN and proprietary data compression and transmission. EMS Satcom's offering is called eNfusion Broadband. Finally, for the most basic of cabin amenities, we can look to the longest-serving provider of cabin displays, Rockwell Collins.
Its latest offering-Airshow 4000-provides high-resolution 3D maps and graphics along with countless programmable live feeds, such as stock quotes, news, weather and traffic. The Rockwell Collins CMU900 communications management unit supports controller/ pilot datalink communications (CPDLC) when available.
Flight Display Systems' 42-in widescreen LCD can be bulkhead mounted, as in this BBJ. Its WXGA picture is suitable for computer graphics and moving map display.
Gulfstream has chosen BBML as its airborne office IT offering. Based on SKYLink by ARINC Direct, BBML uses Ku-band frequencies (and the option of adding L-band to support Swift64 coverage outside BBML range) for high-speed data transmission.
Wi-Fi will be available and can support up to 20 users. BBML incorporates 128-bit encryption, even from outside the aircraft while on the ground.
Advantages and future applications
There are clear benefits to the newer equipment. Pilots have a scalable platform from the service providers that will provide ADS-B and CPDLC capabilities when available, cockpit EFB services and updating, communications and real-time weather feeds without purchasing additional subscriptions, and eventual digital airframe and engine parameter reporting to home base maintenance personnel.
For passengers there are wireless voice and data, either through handsets or computer, VOIP capability, VPN access and e-mail, intranet, Internet and instant messaging. Finally, videoconferencing without disruption will soon be available worldwide.
Gulfstream G550's BBML will soon have global SwiftBroadband coverage with the final 4th-generation satellite, which is due for launch in Aug 2008. Gulfstream claims the highest data throughput with BBML at a relatively low cost. (Inset) Wi-Fi allows multiple users to have real-time BlackBerry/PDA connectivity at near-office speeds.
All these features add up to productive and efficient use of time and space in the company aircraft. Clearly, selecting the right equipment and service providers are key to integration, support and cost.
It's important to have ADS-B and CPDLC capabilities through a scalable product, and that all cabin equipment interfaces with cockpit installations. Most OEMs are teaming with service providers to ensure this, but for retrofit aircraft and older upgrades, the technology is complex and confusing.
Enlisting an avionics specialist during the process can pay huge dividends in the final product (and satisfaction).
Satellites-Ku-band vs L-band
As you work with your avionics team and service center on determining the correct application for your particular needs, keep in mind that some comparisons are meaningless. Such is the case with the 2 frequency bands available for our use-Ku and L. Raw data transfer rates should not be the sole comparison for either system. Ku has a significantly higher throughput over L-band in this case. Cost is lower for L-band in all applications and the size and weight of L-band are less than Ku (and getting smaller and lighter). Existing L-band installations will be upgradeable to SwiftBroadband services, thus saving significant engineering/modifications/Form 337 requirements for those operators with a system in place.
While principals rarely have enough time to research and review fast-changing technical data on cabin offerings, they do expect their aviation managers and staff to become as knowledgeable as possible for such large capitalization acquisitions.
Spending some extra time branching out from daily departmental duties can pay dividends for both executive and aviator alike. And, as with all facets of business aviation, the number of hats we must wear every day seems daunting, but in this case it will reconfirm our collective commitment to excellence both in and out of the cockpit.
David Bjellos is the aviation manager for a private corporation whose flight department was the first in south Florida to achieve IS-BAO certification. The company operates a Gulfstream IVSP, a Dassault Falcon 2000, 2 Bell 407s and a Eurocopter EC120.
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