What are the Costs of BizAv Cabin Connectivity?

David Wyndham offers a rough guide to the costs of cabin connectivity, and details the factors that determine what is the right amount for you to be paying...

David Wyndham  |  22nd June 2020
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David Wyndham
David Wyndham

David Wyndham is executive sales director & acquisition specialist with Par Avion Ltd. Based in Sebastian,...

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How much does business aircraft cabin connectivity cost

How much does it cost to connect business aircraft passengers with their offices, families and friends while in flight? What are the factors that drive those costs? David Wyndham explores...

In most urban areas, Wi-Fi is second only to oxygen as being expected for free. These days, commuter buses and rail services offer it – mostly at no cost – to fare-paying passenger. Bars, coffee shops and restaurants also provide it along with water and breadsticks.

In a fixed location, provision of Wi-Fi is relatively inexpensive. For slow-moving vehicles, as long as they’re operating in more populated areas Wi-Fi is also affordable. All of these options use cellular towers to send and receive the signals, and a small transmitter (or several) to disperse the signal.

Where Wi-Fi is concerned, aircraft complicate matters. Nevertheless, today’s passengers expect Wi-Fi on the airplane in the same way they receive it on the commuter rail.

In North America, many of the airlines have a Wi- Fi provision, ranging from free of charge up to $20 for a day pass. These use Air-To-Ground (ATG) systems (such as the ubiquitous GoGo systems), which use cellular towers located across much of North America, and switching technologies that allow for smooth and continuous signals.

Personal and business aircraft have similar ATG options that, thanks to growing technology, are smaller and lighter in weight than the systems available a few years ago. ATG systems are primarily limited to North America.

Business jets travelling internationally have for many years communicated globally using satellite phones. While there are several different types of satellite systems with varying coverages, there are ultimately few places on the planet where a signal cannot be received – even on polar routes. Satellite systems that offer HD, streaming, and broadband are available.

Connectivity: How to Decide What You’ll Need to Pay?

As we’ll discuss, costs vary between ‘costly’, going to ‘well beyond expensive’. (Of course, the costs you pay are all relative to the business sense for the system you use.) So, what are the main factors in the cabin connectivity puzzle that will help you choose the right amount of connectivity for your needs?

Following are some of the key pieces…

  • Size: Powerful satellite-based systems weigh much more than an ATG system. What fits on an Ultra-Long-Range business jet will not fit on a Turboprop or Light Jet.
  • Duration: How long are the flights you’ll be making? A 30-minute hop in a smaller Turboprop will not need the same system as flights lasting two hours. Short trips typically require some basic text and email capability. Longer trips (i.e. transcontinental and oceanic) require/use much more data of any kind.
  • Who: This consideration includes both flight crew and passengers. The more people needing to use the system, the more throughput (data volume per second) will be needed. Think of the data like water at home. One person washing their hands needs only a low flow/volume of water. Three people showering while the lawn is being watered need high flow/volume. Four passengers versus eight passengers plus crew will have different requirements to deliver the same performance.
  • What: In terms of throughput capacity, it is roughly ordered by text, email, browsing, calls, and live video streams. What are the data needs of your passengers? A corporate shuttle may need strong email and some browsing capacity. A family flying for several hours with children may want to stream a couple of movies, or even live video games.

Business jet cabin connectivity costs

What is the Cost of Business Aircraft Connectivity?

Installation costs vary by system and by aircraft model. The antennas mount externally with connections, wiring and routers being internal. Different aircraft models present different challenges in antenna placement, as well as how and where wiring can be installed.

In Large Cabin Jets especially, interior configurations not only dictate where equipment can be installed, but also signal strengths. The following costs are, therefore, approximate:

  • Basic ATG systems (for Turboprops and Light Jets, for example) can run between $100k-150k installed. These give you text, email, browsing and some voice capacity for four people.
  • Upgrading to a more powerful ATG can cost approximately $200k installed, but provides greater speeds and allows for video streaming.
  • Satellite-based systems vary even more, but plan on spending $650,000, or more, for the installation. Data costs are also extremely variable and are based on how much data is consumed, along with the connection speed.
  • Plan on up to $1,000 per month for basic ATG (less when flying infrequently or on short legs).
  • ATG data fees for the higher speeds with a lot of use can run to $50,000 to $60,000 per year.
  • Satellite systems that have High Definition, streaming and broadband can run as high as that monthly.

Closing Thoughts: Education, Control & Security

Charter operators that charge the user for the data need to let passengers know what the costs are in terms the passengers understand. As an example, $6.95/Mb is less understood than $100 for a 30- minute television show.

Moreover, not every flight will need the maximum data and speed capability available. Connectivity providers today offer options that reduce (throttle) the data stream when usage is low. Satellite providers monitor their satellites and air traffic, and can communicate with the crew in advance of flying into areas with poor coverage or high density use so they can warn passengers to reduce their usage while flying in those area.

One last consideration is data security. If your company is working on truly secret data, the connection needs to be secure from airplane, to satellite, to ground server, to your corporate server.

You can expect Enterprise- or even Government-Certified levels of security to add both cost and the need for skilled IT management.

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Read More About: Operating Costs | In-Flight Connectivity | Jet Connectivity

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