Communications and entertainment possibilities aloft keep on expanding

Here is a current review of world-link office-in-the-sky and IFE
hardware, software and satellite communications for use in flight.

By Bill Gunn
ATP/CFII. Compliance Mgr
State of Texas Aviation Division

This screenshot from Rockwell Collins CPDLC implementation shows that an ATC clearance from Maastricht Center (EDYY Netherlands, Belgium, northern Germany) was received and accepted. The wording is similar to the spoken clearance.

Portable personal electronics with growing applications are evolving at an accelerating rate. Moreover, how we address communications, what functions we want or expect from a fixed or portable electronic device in the cockpit or cabin of an aircraft are evolving as well. What a corporate flight department needs to know about their flightcrew's and executive passengers' requirements for inflight connectivity can be a complex issue.

The options a company has for the mobile inflight office and entertainment center today show improvements in terms of systems size, weight, flexibility and assurance that future systems upgrades are possible as technology develops.

Improvements in antenna systems, availability of higher capacity microwave satellite links with worldwide coverage and more flexibility in applications all prove the premise that capabilities of the mobile inflight office are maturing.

The Portable Electronic Device Aviation Rulemaking Committee (PED ARC) issued their findings to the FAA on September 30, 2013. This ARC included several major well-known activities including, ALPA, Boeing, Cessna, Thales, Rockwell Collins, HAI, GAMA, FCC and FAA as well as other groups. Much of the report is aimed at scheduled air carrier operations. However many of the 29 recommendations will benefit any aircraft that seeks to accommodate electronic devices in the cabin.

How the FAA will act on this ARC report is not yet fully known. The report indicates that greater connectivity is possible as long as all aspects of installation, training, use during phases of flight and stowage when not in use become more standardized.

One recommendation is to design new aircraft to be device tolerant when first built. This does nothing for the existing fleet but would become a consideration when a flight department considers upgrading the company fleet.

Looking at communications options

This flow chart is the basis for all recommendations made by the PED Aviation Rulemaking Committee report.

Continued improvement for inflight communications is one key area in the growth of options for connectivity outside of the aircraft. Inmarsat is a constellation of geostationary satellites and ground based relay sites that provide worldwide communications between 80 degrees south and 80 degrees north.

Inmarsat's latest satellite launch in December 2013 includes service in the Ka band (just above the K band microwave frequency) which expands the offerings for global communications. Inmarsat's Swift Broadband and Swift 64 ISDN services are available through multiple suppliers.

Iridium is a constellation of 66 near-Earth orbit satellites that provide services for both the cockpit and cabin communications requirements. The new Iridium NEXT constellation, due to launch in 2015, will include increased services in the L and Ka bands. Options such as Aircell Axxess and ICG NextLink are just 2 of the many business aviation products available.

What's available today?

Many excellent system installations are available to meet the exacting requirements of the client. Assessing how to equip or upgrade your current aircraft as well as what you want in a new aircraft lease or purchase has to include the system supplier, installation team, client/user and the crew. A look at some of the offerings available today follows:

Rockwell Collins Venue

Rockwell Collins Venue in-cabin conferencing display.

Long a supplier of IFE systems, the Venue suite is a full complement of hardware and software for corporate aviation. The Airshow moving map, Tailwind TV system and Media Center audio jukebox provide entertainment for the clients.

Venue wired and wireless systems can also integrate with broadband services which provide high speed Internet.

Venue will work with the Rockwell Collins eXchange and Inmarsat Swift Broadband. An in-cabin media presentation is possible by using a PED connected through a High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port which then displays on all cabin monitors.

Venue will use iPad, iPhone or iPad Touch as an in-cabin single remote for the entire Venue system. Venue's architecture supports video resolution up to 1080p and is fully compatible with high-definition standards such as HDMI, HD-SDI and Blu-ray.

The system is High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) compliant to ensure the best display of any high-definition source. Venue also supports traditional analog video equipment with the added benefit of high-quality video by upgrading standard definition sources to high-definition.

Venue supports maintenance through a central diagnostic onboard system which is PC accessible. Remote system monitoring is also possible. Venue can reconfigure real-time if one element fails; this permits the rest of the system to continue operation.


1 | 2| 3