Upstart OneWeb Pairs With Gogo, Satcom Direct

Gogo OneWeb
L-r, Reza Rasoulian of Hughes Network Systems, Gogo Business Aviation President Sergio Aguirre and Ben Griffin of OneWeb present Gogo’s new satcom antenna.
Credit: Bill Carey

GENEVA―Upstart satellite operator OneWeb is making inroads in business aviation even as it continues building its constellation of 648 low Earth orbit (LEO) communications satellites.

At the start of EBACE, inflight connectivity provider Gogo, which is rolling out a 5G air-to-ground network in the U.S., announced a partnership with Hughes Network Systems and OneWeb to produce a flat-panel, electronically steered antenna to connect with OneWeb’s Ku-band LEO network. Hughes is building the antenna, for which Gogo will develop a base FAA supplemental type certification (STC) and Parts Manufacturer Approval to install it on business aircraft. It will sell rights to maintenance, repair and overhaul companies to develop their own STCs to install the system on specific aircraft types.

Not to be outdone, satellite communications (satcom) provider Satcom Direct (SD) on May 23 announced a three-way agreement with OneWeb and Germany’s QEST Quantenelekronische Systeme to produce an electronic phased array antenna for OneWeb’s service. QEST already supplies the antenna component of SD’s tail-mounted Plane Simple Ku- and Ka-band satcom terminals.

SD’s press release arrived on the same day that Gogo, Hughes Network Systems and OneWeb formally presented their partnership on the show floor at EBACE. 

With their dueling announcements, both companies placed bets on the success of OneWeb, which thus far has placed only two-thirds of its 648 satellites into orbit. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February and the sanctions that resulted forced OneWeb to switch from using Russian Soyuz rockets as a launch platform to striking new launch agreements with rival SpaceX and New Space India.

Business aviation connectivity providers seeking to quench an apparently unrelenting thirst for bandwidth were not deterred from partnering with the London-based satellite operator.

“By far, without a doubt, Gogo is the leader of broadband connectivity in business aviation,” Gogo Business Aviation President Sergio Aguirre declared at his company’s event, which was followed by a champagne reception. 

“Fifteen years ago, we did something very revolutionary in the North American market; we launched an air-to-ground system that for the first time made connectivity equipment not only small enough but affordable enough to be installed on any size aircraft,” Aguirre said. “The press release that we issued [May 22] is in that same vein, except that we’re going to do it globally. There are 14,000 business aircraft around the world that do not have an affordable broadband connectivity option. The system that we announced will provide broadband connectivity to everything from a turboprop to a large business jet.”

SD said that development has already begun on its fuselage-mounted antenna. The company plans to validate over-the-air performance with OneWeb’s network using a small form-factor demonstrator system in the fourth quarter. Plans call for market introduction of the antenna in 2024.

“This is a truly ground-breaking collaboration which is setting out to bring OneWeb’s powerful connectivity to a much-underserved sector of our business aviation community,” SD CEO Jim Jensen said. “We are proud to be part of such an innovative, and dynamic group of companies, that will change the way in which small jets and general aviation operators connect with the world.” 

Bill Carey

Bill covers business aviation and advanced air mobility for Aviation Week Network. A former newspaper reporter, he has also covered the airline industry, military aviation, commercial space and uncrewed aircraft systems. He is the author of 'Enter The Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America,' published in 2016.