Jet Connectivity: Developments on Africa’s Horizon

With developments in LEO (low earth orbit) satellite connectivity and evolving tech of GEO (geostationary orbit) satellite networks, the reality of affordable, reliable, meaningful aircraft connectivity is on the African horizon. Jane Stanbury reviews…

Jane Stanbury  |  28th September 2022
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    Jane Stanbury
    Jane Stanbury

    Jane has over 30 years’ professional experience working in the media, communications, Business...

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    Private jet connectivity for Africa

    The satellite communications sector is developing at a rapid pace, so what should African owners and operators be thinking about when looking to install or upgrade connectivity options in their aircraft?

    Business Aviation is becoming increasingly digitized with technology evolving at a rapid pace as more satellite operators launch new or upgrade existing satellite constellations, and hardware providers simplify and extend operational possibilities. This evolution is expanding the benefits of high-speed data connectivity for a broader set of aircraft types.

    For African operators, this presents an exciting new connectivity toolbox. One-size-fits-all services are transforming into a bewildering array of customizable options. Data has traditionally provided historical reference points, but now facilitates automatic collection and analysis data to revolutionize Business Aviation operations.

    The latest technology enables much more than just communications, though. It enables powerful management of just about every aspect of flight to enhance maintenance, improve onboard experience, and retain asset value.

    Data analysis can answer many of the questions that influence operational costs in a clear and verifiable way. For example, how many hours has the aircraft flown? When is the next scheduled maintenance check? Why is the fuel burn increasing? What are the monthly operating costs currently, and what are they going to be?

    It also increases productivity. So, what should operators research before committing to system installation?

    Multiple Options with Promise of More

    Evgeniy Pashkov, Regional Director for Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa for Satcom Direct says, “There are multiple options for GEO-supported coverage in Africa.

    “Both Inmarsat JetConneX and IntelSat FlexExec have great coverage and the entry of multiple new LEO-based satellite operators into the segment holds promise for more consistency and reliability.”

    Inmarsat has a strong history supporting African connectivity, delivering a full range of possibilities with Ka-band JetConneX (JX) fulfilling the needs of the Large Cabin Jet fleets. Its SwiftBroadband option has been a market leader in cabin connectivity in Africa across a wide range of aircraft platforms since its inception.

    “We’ve had a lot of customer demand for higher speeds on smaller aircraft, and we’re doing our best to bring the popularity of JX to new aircraft and are also enhancing the capabilities of existing SwiftBroadband installations in Africa,” says Harry Shadbolt, Global Channel Director at Inmarsat.

    In 2023 JX, will boast new hardware making the power of JX available to smaller platforms. SwiftJet is also on the way which Shadbolt says will bring up to six times more speed to existing SwiftBroadband installations.

    “We’ll be announcing more and more information on SwiftJet, which we think is a fantastic solution for our existing African SwiftBroadBand customers.”

    The Iridium Certus solution also enables truly global coverage for voice and low bandwidth data transmission which supports the needs of small aircraft flying shorter flights and with its newly upgraded system offers a flexible platform that scales to meet size, weight, and power requirements at competitive rates.

    Africa: A Key Connectivity Challenge

    Jason Sperry Director of Business Aviation at OneWeb says, “The lack of a consistent connected experience in Africa is one of the key challenges of the current solutions, and constant source of frustration.”

    OneWeb aims to ease this frustration by delivering a consistent experience through its extensive LEO network, which bodes well for African operators. 

    To deliver this service OneWeb has signed distribution agreements with Gogo Business Aviation, as well as Satcom Direct with both companies offering connectivity for smaller business jet categories at affordable prices. Satcom Direct recently announced its SD Plane Simple fuselage-mounted electronically steered antenna, designed specifically for smaller airframes, will connect with the OneWeb network. Once in play these services will enable end-to-and connectivity.

    More Than Just Connectivity

    Satcom Direct recognizes the power of data to do more than just connect. Pashkov says, “Our agnostic architecture enables customers to ‘plug-in’ third party systems to optimize the data generated.

    “For example, for customers using a Continuous Airworthiness Maintenance Program (CAMP) we can plug in the maintenance management software to the SD Pro operating system, which enables real-time performance data delivery back to the CAMP system for improved maintenance management.”

    Delivering real-time data to the customer makes the ownership experience better in terms of safety, efficiency, and budgeting.

    Tips When Planning a Connectivity Upgrade

    What should operators think about when upgrading or acquiring connectivity for the first time? The experts suggest the following are key considerations:

    • First and foremost, if you have an existing provider ask them about available options – and explore them all. Also, ask about what’s in development, it is important that the technology can keep up with the constantly evolving changes.
    • Start with the end-result in mind and engage with a service provider as early as possible to help to build the best solution for each specific aircraft requirement.
    • A provider offering flexibility, product and service knowledge will define the best solution.
    • Fundamental information for creating the right connectivity solution is to identify how many people regularly fly, common routes, and what the passengers will want to do.
    • Future-proof technology, particularly if your aircraft is young. Airframes are designed to last for decades, yet the connectivity solutions are constantly changing. It is important to select a system that can transform easily and cost-efficiently with the advancements.

    • Connectivity is now a top priority, not merely ‘nice to have’. Any service installed, however, must be a solution that blends coverage, reliability, and performance to ensure needs are met in the future.
    • Choose the right network provider. Choosing the wrong one has been costly for many operators, so a provider that has a proven track-record of delivering and innovating is important.
    • Integration is key, so choosing a provider that has strong relationships with completion centers and MRO networks will help streamline selection and integration.
    • Cybersecurity is a growing concern. Altitude does not make data safe. Good providers will guide you through cybersecurity protocols to keep data secure.
    • Customer service is also critical to ensure data transmission can be optimized. If connectivity fails, good customer support will ensure clear and rapid resolution.
    • Look for a single source from which connectivity can be acquired and managed. This will streamline consistent data transmission.
    • Get educated. Connectivity is complex, so understanding the basics will go a long way to efficient system use.
    • Manage expectations! Connecting a desktop computer in an office is fairly complicated. Connecting a computer to a satellite system on a machine that is flying 40,000 feet in the air, at speeds of up to 500mph, is hard. A variety of factors are in play that can affect connectivity so listen to the provider’s advice for the best experience.

    In Summary…

    Importantly connectivity is much more than a communication tool. Its existing and future potential to revolutionize flight operations efficiencies, augment budgets, and elevate the passenger experience is immense. So, taking the time to select the right provider and solution is worth the long-term payback.

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