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Industry exhibitions and conferences are a prime opportunity to get a firsthand sense of what is on our customers’ minds. And after three days at the European Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva, Switzerland, it’s clear that the big topic on private and corporate aircraft operators’ minds is connectivity.

To be more precise, I heard two questions over and over again during the show:

  1. When will high-speed airborne internet connectivity be available globally?

While I don’t have control over the exact timing of when Ka-band connectivity (the connectivity type in question) will be first used by a paying customer, my answer is “Very soon.” We’ve already validated Inmarsat’s technology in our laboratories. And it’s even been installed and successfully used (meaning people on the aircraft were talking on FaceTime, watching Netflix, etc., while airborne) on a business jet that will be delivered by an aircraft maker this year. Probably not the precise answer some are looking for, but I assure you, it’s tantalizingly close.

 

  1. Will the high-speed Ka-band connectivity be just like what I have at home?

The answer to this question really depends on what people have at home. While there’s no question that Ka will provide the fastest connectivity option for operators to date, some homes have internet download speeds of 1.5 Mbps or even less, while others have well over 10 Mbps. An individual aircraft’s connection ultimately depends upon the package an operator selects, Ka speeds will allow up to 15 Mbps, fast enough to handle just about every demand, with a little left over. 

The Bottom line? Airborne Ka-band connectivity will be fast, it will be global, and it will change cabins and flight decks forever.

But if those are two questions that I heard frequently at EBACE, there really are two more that owner/operators should be asking when they think about high-speed global connectivity.

  1. How can I best manage data use at 41,000 feet?

The right service provider will help operators understand the best methods for managing data use. A great example is application updates that happen automatically in the background on your laptop or smartphones. Perhaps flying over the Atlantic Ocean is not the best time for those updates to occur. Look for providers who offer solutions that allow them to take control of the data being used onboard their aircraft.

 

  1. What if I have an issue with my service? How can I ask for help?

If an issue arises at any point of the end-to-end connectivity solution, look for a provider who can help you address the issue efficiently and with the least amount of impact to your flight operations. Most essential to troubleshooting issues is working closely with your service provider to take advantage of their technical expertise. This could mean a video chat, a phone call with technical support or a live visit from a field service technician.

Right now, everyone’s excited — just like before a big sporting event or a concert — for faster internet in the sky, and we’re on the cusp of it happening. And just like any big sporting event or concert, you usually need help to your seats. My advice—accept the help. On the surface, high-speed connectivity may seem like a simple thing because it’s prolific on the ground, but enabling internet in the air is a more complex proposition. Find a Ka-band service provider you can trust to “help you to your seat.”

-Dave

Dave Poltorak

Dave Poltorak is vice president and general manager, Information Management Services for Business Aviation at Rockwell Collins, which includes ARINCDirect℠ Cabin Connectivity.

P.S. Rockwell Collins had a busy spring in the business aviation marketplace. In April we announced that Zetta Jet selected us to offer JX connectivity across its entire fleet of aircraft.  Last week we made news with new ADS-B -driven airspace modernization packages for Pro Line 21™-equipped King Air aircraft. We also announced certification of Rockwell Collins’ FANS 1/A solution for Dassault 50EX aircraft. And at EBACE we announced our Venue™ cabin management system was chosen for Bombardier’s Global 5000/6000 aircraft, and we introduced HD upgrades for Gulfstream cabins and the first upgrade from our legacy CES cabin entertainment system to Venue.