After receiving initial FAA certification in March of a system combining satellite-based communications with helicopter health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS), Honeywell aims to evolve the capability for inflight broadband connectivity on passenger airliners.

The integrated development blends Honeywell's newly certified Sky Connect Tracker III and Zing HUMS using the Iridium global satellite network, giving helicopter operators an all-in-one system for voice, text and fleet tracking, plus the ability to communicate real-time alerts of helicopter exceedances and maintenance issues to ground personnel.

Carl Esposito, vice president of marketing and product management at Phoenix-based Honeywell, says Sky Connect Tracker III allows pilots to simultaneously send text messages to ground operators while talking on their headsets. It also sends back continuous updates on the helicopter's position and altitude. When integrated with Zing, the system can send automatic, real-time maintenance alerts detected via HUMS to ground personnel, who can call or send back text messages to the aircraft as necessary.

“This gives you real-time health information about the helicopter,” Esposito says. “In the past, you had to wait for the helicopter to land, and then go out and download that information, but with this it's in real time.”

With the integrated system offered as an option under a supplemental type certificate on the Sikorsky S-76C++, Esposito says Honeywell is now exploring operational improvements that could be adapted for use inside the cockpit and beneath the floor boards of commercial and business jets through Inmarsat's new Global Xpress Ka-band satellite network.

“We are looking at onboard data-loading or being able to view the maintenance history of pieces of aircraft equipment,” Esposito said, adding that beyond passenger connectivity, the company sees an opportunity to bring real-time HUMS and tracking services to aircraft operators, airlines and air traffic controllers, including predictive maintenance and better aircraft communications designed to take advantage of Inmarsat's high-speed broadband network. “We want to offer the ability to look at real-time information as to how the aircraft is performing by having much broader connectivity and bandwidth for aircraft diagnostics.”

Esposito says Honeywell's expertise in aircraft subsystems—everything from avionics and navigation to propulsion and mechanical systems—allows the company to take a more comprehensive approach to aeronautical connectivity.

“It's not just about broadband in the back of the aircraft,” he said. “We're looking at applying this to cockpit avionics and maintenance. As the Global Xpress network comes online, you're going to see an explosion of capability that we're going to bring with aviation.”

Under the terms of a 2012 agreement with London-based fleet operator Inmarsat, Honeywell is the exclusive wireless airtime reseller for Global Xpress inflight broadband services for commercial and business aviation.

In addition, Honeywell will exclusively develop, produce and distribute the onboard hardware that will enable users to connect to Global Xpress, a $1.2 billion constellation that comprises three large Boeing-built Ka-band satellites slated for launch in 2013 and 2014 to serve commercial and military markets. Honeywell also has rights to sell Global Xpress hardware to a number of government and military customers.

Together, Honeywell estimates the deal to be worth $2.8 billion in hardware sales and aftermarket services to aircraft manufacturers, airlines and governments over the next 20 years.

“We see a really strong aftermarket demand from those that either have no connectivity or want to increase the speed of their connectivity,” Esposito says, adding that on the government side, Honeywell sees growing interest in high-throughput broadband for unmanned aircraft.

“There is great interest in terms of the high-bandwidth connectivity options this brings,” he says. Honeywell's $491-million acquisition of Atlanta-based EMS Technologies in 2011 brought with it a long history of military satcom technologies and capabilities, Esposito notes. “We're continuing to build on that broad technology history.”