1. The three E’s of Internet. Experience. Experience. Experience.
If you want to see an angry passenger, tell him or her you have Wi-Fi and then have it not work. Engines and altimetry do not matter; the only thing that really matters is the lack of internet service, because it is so immediately in front of the client. For that reason alone, I encourage you to carefully consider who will be performing your aircraft Wi-Fi installation. Following are six things to consider when selecting that installer.
Pick a company that knows these systems inside and out. Ask how many internet systems the company has installed. If the number is low, go somewhere else. With Duncan Aviation, I have been involved in hundreds of internet system installations, and I am still learning things. You don’t want training day for your installer to occur on your aircraft.
I recently troubleshot an aircraft that was experiencing internet problems, only to find that there was damage to transmission lines that required an entire coax harness to be replaced from the tail of the aircraft to the forward fuselage. Did this operator save anything by going to a cheaper installation shop? No. In fact, it will now cost them an additional one week of ground time and thousands dollars to repair the system. The lowest bidder in some cases is the lowest bidder for a reason.2. Look at the aviation certification of the Wi-Fi equipment.
Carefully examine the proposal of the installing company and question the technical data by which the Wi-Fi connection is being installed. Aviation-grade Wi-Fi equipment has been tested and found to operate in the electrically noisy environment of an aircraft without interfering with onboard systems. There may be an STC applied that permits the Wi-Fi to be activated. Another method of Wi-Fi certification is to complete interference testing as part of applying a 337 or Major Alteration to the aircraft.3. Understand the equipment the installer is proposing.
When you receive proposals from several competing MROs, look at the details and determine if they are all installing the same equipment in the same way. If they are not, ask them to explain the differences and the reasons for those differences. Often, an installation company will have one vision of how a system should go in when a better solution might be more cost-effective long-term. For example, if someone is proposing installing a newer router and the competing proposal is installing a different, older router, then those proposals are not equal in functionally and will cost you a lot of money long term. Use the knowledge of experts in the industry to arrive at an equipment configuration that is going to meet your needs.4. Choose a company that is a dealer for both the Wi-Fi and the HSD equipment.
Often, the manufacturer of the router is different from the manufacturer of the actual internet system. This can lead to some finger-pointing when troubleshooting needs to happen. Some avionics installers, like Duncan Aviation, have dealership agreements with a large number of equipment manufacturers, and spend time tending those relationships. As a byproduct, we receive timely support from the manufacturer when it is needed.
5. Make sure the company installing the equipment has the expertise to accommodate the highest level of complexity required.
It is essential that you are able to provide your passengers with the best system possible. Ask about the security measures the avionics installer is familiar with and has installed in the past. Understand how the installation will work for different services, such as phone and datalink services. Your company’s computer specialists may have to work with the avionics installer to ensure everything is set up properly. If the installer appears unfamiliar with troubleshooting or satcom registration procedures, do not use them. I have assisted many clients with troubleshooting and redoing internet installations that were not completed properly.6. What methods are used to test the Wi-Fi installation?
After a Wi-Fi system is installed, it should be tested in the same way that your customers will use it. Standard connectivity and speed tests will tell you if the equipment is performing basic functions. From there, it will be up to you and your IT department to further define the details of system configuration. Your installer should be willing to be a partner in this effort and you should have this conversation before you choose the installer.
If smart phone connectivity is the most important to you, then make sure you plan for testing using the same model, set up the same way by your IT department. If your company has VPN client software, make sure to take a company laptop. The installer should support any testing you may seek, the same as they would any other service. There may be VPN tweaks that are required due to the high latency of satcom internet connections. This fine-tuning for corporate clients can sometimes make a big difference.
- Know the experience level of your installer.
- Know how they are getting it on the aircraft from a certification point of view.
- Know what equipment they are installing.
- Know they are a dealer for both the Wi-Fi system and the HSD system.
- Know that the installer is capable of resolving issues between the internet equipment provider and the router manufacturer should one appear.
- Know that the equipment was tested in a manner consistent with how it will be used.
If any of these are unclear, ask questions, consult a tech rep, and know what to expect before you sign.
Adrian Chene is an avionics technical representative who started his avionics career with the US Air Force. While knowledgeable on all bizjet avionics, Adrian is an industry expert on internet and phone solutions at Duncan Aviation's Battle Creek, Michigan, facility, where he has worked for more than 16 years.