Satcom Direct Demos Inflight Broadband For Bizjets Over Geneva

Plane Simple
Seen here on Satcom Direct’s G550, the Plane Simple antenna runs across the top of the vertical stabilizer.
Credit: Bill Carey/ShowNews

GENEVA—Satellite communications provider Satcom Direct (SD) is nearing commercial introduction of its Plane Simple Antenna System supporting inflight broadband connectivity for business aviation using the Intelsat FlexExec network.

Speaking at EBACE, SD executives said the tail-mounted, Ku-band Plane Simple satcom terminal is undergoing in-service evaluations (ISE) on 18 aircraft prior to full commercial introduction. The Melbourne, Florida-based company is also developing the Plane Simple system for Inmarsat’s Jet ConneX Ka-band service, as well as a fuselage-mounted high-gain antenna for Iridium Certus L-band connectivity.

“They have agreed to be flying testbeds … so we can make sure we have access to the most popular airframes [and] we’ve tested it properly,” Michael Skou Christensen, SD International vice president, said of the ISE partner operators. “In the third or fourth quarter, we’re looking at taking this from the test phase to commercial introduction. At that point, we’re going to have a full portfolio of STCs [supplemental type certifications] that are going to be available globally” to install the system on major business jet platforms.

The satcom provider hosted reporters for a nearly hour-long flight on its Plane Simple-equipped Gulfstream G550 large-cabin jet May 22 during EBACE. The flight departed from and returned to Jet Aviation’s Geneva FBO at Geneva Airport. The Plane Simple terminal has flown 500 hr. on the G550, which the company uses as a testbed and demonstrator.

Prior to takeoff, the satcom connection supported high-definition video on the cabin monitor and streamed music from Pandora while the G550 flight crew awaited clearance from air traffic control at the busy airport. While inflight, the connection supported online access to 19 smart phones, tablets and computers. “Right now, we’re barely using it,” remarked Christensen, who said the connection provides 15 Mbps data rate from the satellite to the aircraft and 2 Mbps uplink from the ground.

Intelsat describes SD as the “master distributor” of FlexExec, a subscription-based service that comes integrated with the Plane Simple Ku Antenna System. “Through our partnership with Intelsat we’ve been able to develop some really creative packages,” Christensen said. “One of the problems that the customer had in the past was you that had an environment where you had to buy into the higher speeds. With FlexExec, no matter what package you are, you’ll get 15-by-2 [Mbps].”

SD announced in January that it had qualified the Plane Simple system on Intelsat’s FlexExec Ku-band network. Weighing 39 lb. in total, a Plane Simple shipset consists of a 12-in.-dia. mechanically steered, tail-mounted antenna and SD Modem Unit. SD’s facility in Ottawa, Canada, builds the modems; partner QEST Quantenelektronische Systeme of Germany provides the antenna aperture.

The Plane Simple system costs $235,000, not including installation on the aircraft. Installations will be performed by MROs including StandardAero, Skyservice and Jet Aviation as well as manufacturers including Gulfstream and Dassault, SD executives said.

Intelsat is supporting the Ku-band network with 18 satellites, most of which are high-throughput satellites, and plans to add more capacity in the future, said Mark Rasmussen, Intelsat senior vice president for mobility. Satcom Direct “is really our exclusive path to the business aviation market,” he told ShowNews.

“Our philosophy is to layer coverage from different satellites on top of each other all in the same place,” Rasmussen said. “Pretty much anywhere on Earth you go you’ll have two, maybe three different satellites available to you that are providing connectivity there.”

“We’re investing in more; we’re bringing another high-throughput satellite over North America that launches at the end of this year,” Rasmussen added. “That’s going to be quite a large one with a lot of throughput really well-suited for this antenna and terminal. We’ve got four, probably more in the future, software-defined high-throughput satellites that will be coming online in 2024-25.”

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.