The Duncan Download Blog: Business Aviation Advice & Observations

Inflight Internet Brings Life to the Office in the Sky

Posted by Duncan Download Blog on Thu, May 06, 2010 @ 09:47 AM

Twenty years ago, when Al Gore (ha!) invented the internet, the quest to place the capability onboard the corporate jet had begun. A similar capability had been available in military and government aircraft, however, it was severely limited. AFIS (Airborne Flight Information System) and SAT-AFIS, were also very early forms of airborne electronic communication...but internet access?

Manufacturers of airborne communication equipment subsequently created software and hardware patches to utilize the dial-up properties of their air-ground communications systems, to allow dial-up internet access. The dial-up speeds, even after slight improvements, were still painfully slow even by the standards in those days. The speed and bandwidth improvements made in the Inmarsat systems and Swift-64 could not keep up with the content and bandwidth requirements of internet use.

FINALLY, there are solutions which place broadband access at your fingertips in the air. With the advent of the newest generation of Inmarsat I4 satellites, SwiftBroadband has brought 432Kbps speed and bandwidth to bizav aircraft. The Inmarsat solution is available through many different hardware manufacturers. The most likely aircraft for the Inmarsat solution are the larger bizav aircraft capable of intercontinental travel due to the size of the intermediate and high-gain antennas required for the system. There are some antennas available now which make the Inmarsat solution more palatable for the mid-size bizav aircraft.

Aircell Broadband is another option for placing internet access onboard corporate aircraft. The Aircell solution is a ground-based solution which offers incredible speeds, but is only available over the continental United States above 10,000 feet. The architecture of the Aircell system makes it attractive to nearly every bizav aircraft in nearly every class.

The other solution for bizav operators is the KU-band satellite-based solution. The KU-band solution was originally developed by Boeing for military and government use and is just now becoming available for corporate aircraft. The KU solution is targeted toward the heavier corporate jets, which can bear the size and weight of the equipment. The KU-band solution is a satellite-based solution that is nearly global in its coverage area.

I've spoken with several bizav operators currently using the available systems. Their response has been very positive. The uses for in-flight broadband services are varied and even varied among operators depending on the primary mission of their corporate jet fleet. The positive feedback is almost universal, with operators enjoying how the systems are much simpler to use and log onto than previous. The speed and capability of airborne broadband have given operators access to various tools like never before. Those operators whose primary missions are within the continental United States utilize the available systems for priorities such as web-based office productivity, entertainment and cockpit services. Priorities change a bit when speaking with operators who routinely fly overseas.

Matt Nelson, Duncan Aviation Satellite Operations Manager

Tags: In-Flight Internet, Aircraft Communications


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