What does SwiftBroadband bring to the aircraft cockpit, and how does it work? Brian Wilson discusses the benefits and developments in SwiftBroadband Safety, along with a logical upgrade path for operators still using legacy systems…
In a previous article covering connectivity options for the international Bizjet community, I took fair ‘aim’ at SwiftBroadband (SBB) as an outlying solution; one similar to a negatively charged free electron circling the nuclei of an atom. However, SBB might adhere more closely to an atom’s positively charged nucleus if you just look in the right place. Following is one such place…
SwiftBroadband Safety (SB-S) for Business Jets
Since Inmarsat first introduced its Classic Aero service back in 1990, it has been the world leader in providing aircraft positioning for both the airlines and the business jet community. Each year, Inmarsat reports about 100,000 aircraft positions per day and close to 35 million annually.
The Classic Aero system is satellite-based and provides voice and data communications to the aircraft. By delivering improved surveillance and communication to the cockpit, Classic Aero has reduced the separation requirements between aircraft and increased the oceanic airspace capacity by 300%.
However, technology on today’s aircraft has changed dramatically. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the new buzzword as on-board avionics, engines and maintenance systems are now designed to deliver data streams early generation computers could only dream of doing.
Today’s modern aircraft have thousands of sensors on board capable of capturing every detail of the flight and these sensors can produce more than a Gigabyte of data on each leg. The existing Classic Aero system was not designed to handle this amount of data. However, SwiftBroadband – Safety (SB-S) is the answer.
SB-S was designed to have far superior data transmissions utilizing an always on, always secure, IP-based internet connection. The increased bandwidth will allow the data channels to work independently of each other, thus setting a priority for cockpit-related information versus lower priorities in the cabin.
Crews, ground operations and air traffic control personnel are calling SB-S ‘ground-breaking’, a ‘game changer’, and ‘dynamic’; commenting that the technology has capabilities “we haven’t even thought of yet”.
According to Andy Beers, global director at Cobham Satcom, “I see SB-S being nothing short of revolutionary, and we have positioned ourselves to be the industry leader for providing SB-S into the cockpit”.
How Does the Operator Benefit?
The benefit to the operator is that they can have voice and data safety services for the crew in the cockpit, while at the same time delivering connectivity for the passengers in the cabin. And since all these features can be produced by just one system, installation and hardware costs can be reduced.
Pilots that have used the voice component compare the quality to one experienced on the ground with their cell phones.
The voice channel can be integrated with the audio panel or the option to add a separate cockpit dialler. The crew then communicates with the ground using their headsets. Typical ACARS messaging (which used to take minutes to translate a simple request) is now performed within seconds using the FMS keypad, similar to someone texting from their phone.
The most common source to display graphic information from the ground in the cockpit is via the crew’s Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) or iPad. These large amounts of real-time data improve the safety of the aircraft and efficiency of the crew by providing adverse condition warnings including:
- Chart/ Weather updates
- Situation awareness
- The operations side reaps many benefits, including:
- Preferred routing
- Reduced fuel consumption
- Less carbon emissions
- Asset utilization
Charter and management companies who live on thin profit margins can monitor the health of the aircraft and plan proactive maintenance at the next stop.
As the SB-S network, hardware and on-board systems continue to evolve ground operations centers will be able to see when the aircraft experienced turbulence, had an engine over-temp or over speed condition, and even detect a hard landing.
And the crowded North Atlantic Tracks (NAT) will witness some much-needed relief as aircraft will be able to fly closer together, both in the latitude and longitude axes, similar to the results produced in the vertical axis by RVSM.
VHF voice congestion and linguistic limitations will be significantly reduced by utilizing simple digital text messaging. SB-S, therefore, is the foundation for the next generation flight experience.
Under the collaboration of both the FAA’s NextGen and the European SESAR programs, a new satellite-based technology titled ‘Iris’ will employ the SB-S platform. This ground-breaking project will revolutionize how the crew communicates with air traffic controllers to reduce airspace congestion, improve routing, enhance safety and lessen delays.
For this to materialize, data speeds to the cockpit must be faster, more secure and have more capacity.
The niche for SB-S equipment manufacturers is their ability to provide secure voice and data communications to both the cockpit and the cabin using only one shipset. In contrast, many Super-Mid- Size and larger aircraft have two separate systems: One for cabin data and one for safety services.
We should offer a quick reminder here that both Ka- and Ku-band satellite communications will not be approved for safety services due to signal reduction in severe weather. Cobham was one of the first to the market with its Aviator 300D and Aviator 350D products:
- • The Aviator 300D utilizes a top fuselage mounted Intermediate Gain Antenna (IGA) which can deliver both voice and data to the cockpit and cabin with IP data connectivity up to 332Kbps;
- • The Aviator 350D is a High Gain Antenna (HGA) mounted on the top of the tail under the radome delivering data rates up to 432Kbps.
Both systems consist of four Line Replacement Units (LRU), including the antenna, and weigh under 10Kg.
Honeywell has a similar product called the Aspire 400. This L-band system also has four components and works with either an IGA or HGA antenna, delivering 332Kbps or 432Kbps. The Satellite Data Unit (SDU) contains two independent and separate channels of SBB. This ensures proper bandwidth is dedicated to the crew for safety services. The other independent channel is dedicated to the cabin for both voice and data.
Both solutions offer substantial cost, size and weight savings over legacy satcom systems that had a multitude of voice channels which no longer qualify as the primary means of communication.
Many Legacy systems that lack the capability, are very expensive to repair, and suffer from deteriorated support from their OEMs. Nevertheless, operators who currently have a compatible High Gain Antenna (HGA) like the AMT 50 and AMT-700 can reduce costs and downtime when compared to the cost and time of installing a completely new standalone system.
If you operate a Super Mid-size (or larger) jet, and fly internationally, and if you still have a legacy system installed on board the aircraft, now would be a great time to discuss an upgrade plan to SB-S.
- Begin by gathering all the information about the legacy system you currently operate;
- Schedule a meeting with up to three MROs that specialize in satellite communications;
- Be prepared to discuss the shortcomings of your current system and how you want it to be configured;
- Check to see if your existing antenna is compatible with the new offering;
- Importantly, discuss who the service provider will be. Ask the MRO to give you a few options and ask “why?” if they’re just pushing one offering.
Almost all flight departments prioritize the safety of crew and passengers. SB-S reduces the workload of the crew and at the same time provides the connectivity requirement for the cabin.
Planning your upgrade during your next maintenance inspection is a good approach as the normal installation time ranges between 2-3 weeks. The Internet of Things (IOT) is changing the way we operate both on the ground, and in the air. Now is the time to upgrade your aircraft and reap the benefits of SB-S.