It’s minutes before departure, and you drop your shiny new FDR in the FBO pay phone to place that one final call before heading out to the aircraft. Once the door shuts, you’re shut – off that is – from communicating with your fellow civilians of the outside world. And then, as our evolutionary process from apes to supreme beings progressed, maybe you upgraded your aircraft with a satellite telephone, along with a fancy new Brother fax machine.
No more, my opposable-thumb friend. Today, cabin comforts and cabin technology – specifically fast, reliable, broadband In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) – is de rigueur for any business jet (and for many, if it’s the right product, installation and subscription price will not matter). It has become AS important as whether or not your aircraft can meet the IFR second-segment climb gradient with one engine inop from your favorite high-altitude airport. The ability to videoconference, send and receive – large files, clear voice, text and streaming video (all wirelessly) are now hard requirements, just like being back at the office in Sioux City. And if you’re selling your aircraft anytime soon, and it doesn’t have IFC, it will either drop behind other more suitable acquisition candidates that do OR be introduced as a negotiating point in any potential transaction.
Additionally, multi-function satellite-based communication systems (SATCOMs) capable of interfacing with aircraft systems will also be required to meet new regulatory airspace and safety mandates (both in Europe and the US). Soon (and now, in some cases), not only does your cabin need IFC, your aircraft systems need it too. For some, a currently installed SATCOM may not (yet) even be certified or capable of interfacing with the latest and greatest avionics hardware and software upgrade options available for your aircraft.
Satellite-based systems (Inmarsat Swift BroadBand, ViaSat, OnAir, Intelsat, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Iridium Next) and terrestrial-based Air-To-Ground (ATG) systems (GoGo and start-up SmartSky Networks) all provide varying degrees of equipment size, weight, bandwidth, speed, coverage, reliability and cost.
Although high in speed, satellite-based systems currently tend be large in size, heavy in weight, expensive in price and high in latency (potentially impairing the quality of service, particularly for real-time applications like videoconferencing), but are the only game in town when crossing oceans, traveling anywhere other than over the US and / or meeting next generation ATC requirements. Terrestrial-based ATG systems such as GoGo have several improved features over satellite, but are not yet global in coverage, are not as fast and can experience slow downs when multiple aircraft (including multiple users aboard commercial aircraft) are all connected to the same tower. Soon to be operational SmartSky Network, the first airborne 4G LTE system, reports to deliver a higher bandwidth product, allowing for faster speeds, and simultaneous voice, data and streaming video (at even lower latency than GoGo). SmartSky and GoGo also have plans (or are open) to provide satellite-based IFC functionality along with their ATG product.
So, if your aircraft soon finds itself adrift in the vast ocean of pre-owned inventory, having some level of IFC just might make the difference in it being heard and picked up by the search and rescue PBY. Without IFC, it may just be … come in Rangoon??