CONNECTIVITY ALOFT

Honeywell JetWave

This popular system uses Inmarsat GX constellation to bring Ka band service to military, airlines and business aircraft.


These are the 2 antenna options available. The parabolic style antenna (right) is a better match for smaller aircraft, while the linear antenna can be installed on larger fuselages.

Inmarsat currently has 4 satellites dedicated to the GX network. The 1st one launched in 2013 and provides coverage to Europe, the Middle East and Asia; the 2nd one was placed in service in 2015 and likely sees the most traffic as it covers the Americas and the Atlantic air routes; satellite number 3 is exclusively dedicated to covering the Pacific Ocean; satellite number 4 becomes fully operational in late 2017 and will be used to shore up the existing constellation and add additional capacity wherever needed.

Another major advantage of the GX platform is it consists of not only the fixed narrow beams commonly associated with Ka delivery methodology, but also has the means to steer beams into areas of higher demand.

Ordinarily, flying from one geographical location to another can be problematic in that the end user experiences a temporary loss of signal during the transition zone between spot beams. But Honeywell had the foresight to circumvent this issue by installing 2 receivers within the same JetWave antenna housing, so while one receiver stays committed to a solid signal, the other searches for and acquires the new spot beam insuring an uninterrupted experience for the passengers.

Honeywell connectivity in perspective

To put the Honeywell connectivity package in perspective, imagine a 2190 nm trip in a large cabin business jet from KOA (Kona HI) to TKF (Truckee Tahoe Airport, CA) with 4 executives from a commercial real estate business. Given that each business traveler totes an average of 3 Wi-Fi enabled devices (likely a laptop, smart phone and tablet) it's a reasonable assumption that the demand for bandwidth will be high. And the fact that the trip is nearly all oceanic means that satellite-based connectivity is the only option.

Fortunately, Ka band coverage is available. At takeoff, the JetWave MCS-8000 is locked on to a spot beam encompassing the first portion of the Pacific route but will seamlessly switch to another satellite when it becomes necessary. Unbeknown to the crew and passengers, an additional spot beam has been steered in that direction because of the anticipated high traffic loads during tourist season.

A couple of hours after takeoff, the passengers are settled in enjoying a cocktail while surfing the internet. The Inmarsat GX satellite in conjunction with the JetWave modem and router is providing the cabin with a solid 33 Megabits per second (Mbps) transmission rate. Sure that's enough for sending e-mail and updating social media accounts, but what about streaming live video? According to Netflix, the minimum recommended speed for standard definition video is 3.0 Mbps. High definition video requires 5.0 Mbps and ultra high definition, which is starting to make inroads into the business jet fleet, necessitates 25 Mbps.

It's important to note than when discussing airborne internet speed, the metric that's often used is an aggregate. Each device that's online consumes a portion of the sum total of what's being received in the cabin. It's fairly normal for Wi-Fi enabled devices to have automatic updates assigned as a factory default setting. This means that when the device detects a Wi-Fi signal it begins transmitting and receiving, sometimes without the owner's knowledge.

A technique to garner additional bandwidth is to deselect the Wi-Fi option on devices not being used. However, the bandwidth culprit might not be immediately obvious. Fortunately, in the case of the KOA-TKF trip, the flightcrew and passengers previously downloaded and installed Honeywell's

GoDirect Network application. It is designed as a troubleshooting and diagnostic tool for airborne Wi-Fi, although it has more features when used in conjunction with Honeywell's GoDirect Routing Software. The app displays the number of Wi-Fi devices on the network and how much data each is using. In short, it won't tell you where the device is, but if it reports 9 to be online and only 8 are immediately visible perhaps someone forgot about the one stored in luggage.

Another feature enables deselecting a specific device. Depending on one's perspective or rank on the corporate ladder, this can be a positive or a negative. If the boss needs to engage in a high bandwidth video conference but notices that a mid-level manager is binge watching high definition television, a quick tap can take the bandwidth hog offline. This function can also be used as a cost-saving measure if the accounting department feels the internet use is getting a little too costly and wants to ration it.

Software that checks the system

So far it's been a smooth flight, but a "crisis" happens just after coasting in–at least according to the passengers: the internet has stopped working. The flight attendant is quick to respond by using the same Honeywell GoDirect app complete with user friendly green and red status icons to analyze the JetWave system and check the speed of the Jet ConneX service. Contrast this with calling customer support for a home based internet problem. After going through a litany of, "Did you try this?" the agony often persists without resolution.

Honeywell's software checks every aspect of the system–internally and externally–and with pinpoint accuracy identifies the root cause. More importantly, it provides action items to get the system working again, which could be as simple as, "wait a few minutes for the system to log on." A graphical map can be brought up that depicts the aircraft location in reference to satellite coverage areas to rule out the possibility of a temporary signal dead zone.

All parameters are recorded so that if the issue requires the assistance of a maintenance technician, the relevant information can be sent via e-mail as opposed to relaying it to a flightcrew member that could forget the details – a situation that techs have been complaining about for years.

Honeywell apps complement the JetWave system

Several other Honeywell apps complement the JetWave system. GoDirect Voice uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to provide encrypted texting and voice communication using a personal smartphone brought aboard the aircraft. Flightcrews can benefit from GoDirect Flight Preview, an iPad app that uses a split screen to depict an IAP chart on the right adjacent to a 3D representation of flying the approach on the left. This way a pilot who has never flown into TKF would benefit from seeing a virtual RNAV to Rwy 20 between 2 peaks towering over 8000 ft in advance of flying it for real.

As a company, Honeywell has always sought to use depth and breadth of technology to increase efficiency and productivity while maintaining comfort. Passengers will find comfort in the highly capable JetWave system while flight departments can be confident knowing that the product line is supported by a strong company with deep aviation roots.

Editor's note: This article is the continuation of a series on airborne connectivity providers that started in our July 2017 issue. See more in PP Jul 2017, p 54; Aug 2017, p 86; and Oct 2017, p 74.

Shannon Forrest is a current line pilot, CRM facilitator and aviation safety consultant. He has over 10,000 hours and holds a degree in behavioral psychology.


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