Cabin Connectivity: Getting it Right First Time!

Why is it important to consider your cabin connectivity before you even buy your next jet? Brian Wilson discusses the value of asking the right questions to get the right solution installed first time…

Brian Wilson  |  08th June 2020
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Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson

Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director...

Cabin connectivity - how to get it right first time in a business jet

What do you need to know before installing your next cabin connectivity solution into your business jet? What are the right questions to ask to ensure you get it right first time? Brian Wilson explores...

Throughout my career, I’ve been personally involved in many aircraft transitions. Most involved charter customers purchasing and owning their first aircraft, or operators upgrading from a Small or Mid-size Jet to a Super Mid-size or Large Cabin Jet. Typically, during the pre-buy inspection the owner arrives with their spouse and a designer.

Much attention is paid to the aesthetics of the aircraft: A new paint livery; a change of carpet; reupholstering the seats; a new expresso machine…

It’s during the maiden flight that the new owner quickly realizes they didn’t devote the time they should to ensure they’d be properly ‘connected’. Previously, that was something the charter company took care of. Or in the smaller jet they only flew domestic trips, but now the flight profile has changed, so have the connectivity needs.

If you’re looking to become a first-time business aircraft owner, or plan to upsize soon, what are the things you can do to ensure you address your connectivity needs in full, before flying the aircraft away to its new home?

How to Get it Right First Time

Start by reassessing your flight profile. Set a time to meet with the primary passengers, and make sure you include the flight crew. (You may find that you have two different profiles if the aircraft will be used for both business and personal flying.) An open discussion should focus on the following:

  • Will the aircraft be used for both domestic and international flights?
  • What is the expected percentage split flying domestically and internationally?
  • Do the passengers need to have connectivity on every flight?
  • What will be the normal passenger load?

In addition, you should define the expectations that must be met regarding connectivity:

  • Would light internet browsing and email be enough?
  • Do the passengers require streaming, video conference, social media and live content? (Based on experience, passengers will expect connectivity on every flight, and they will want it to perform as close to what they have on the ground.)

Don’t rush discussion of these questions. Define your needs clearly, because the next step will be to allocate funding to support the upgrade.

Another factor beyond the monetary costs, is the downtime that will be required for the installation/upgrade. This can range from two to four weeks (or more). While most upgrades are made during a maintenance interval, if your aircraft just came through a pre-buy inspection, there might not be an inspection with the necessary downtime coming any time soon.

Connectivity for Domestic Flying

Small to Mid-size business aircraft have limitations, both in the distance they can fly and the fuselage size (to support a larger antenna required for higher bandwidth). So there might not be a direct correlation between passenger expectations and a viable solution.

In the US: Gogo Business Aviation has an Air-to-Ground (ATG) system capable of meeting all the needs described above. Nearly 6,000 business jets in the US rely on Gogo’s exclusive ATG network to keep passengers connected.

Whether the aircraft is used for business or pleasure, the bandwidth provides everything from simple email and web browsing to streaming movies. Numerous pricing options and a dedicated customer portal allow convenient control and monitoring of data usage and costs.

Outside the US: The most common solution is Swift Broadband (SBB). SBB supports data speeds between 200Kbps and 432Kbps, which is enough for simple web browsing and emails with small attachments. The data speeds are predicated by the size of the antenna.

  • Low Gain Antenna (LGA): 200Kbps
  • Intermediate Gain Antenna (IGA): 332Kbps
  • High Gain Antenna (HGA): 432Kbps

Note: Almost all Small to Mid-Size business aircraft will be limited to the LGA or IGA solution. Although the data speeds are modest, pricing for data consumption can be relatively expensive, requiring constant monitoring to avoid nasty surprises in your monthly bill.

Connectivity for International Flying

The Super Mid-size to Large Cabin business jets have the advantage of a larger fuselage, most of which can support a tail-mounted antenna. This opens up the possibility of faster speeds and more options. Among those options are Swift Broadband (SBB) and both Ka- and Ku-band systems.

As highlighted in the smaller aircraft connectivity options, SBB utilizing the HGA has a maximum speed of 432Kbps. However, service providers offer compression and acceleration features which can extend the speed closer to 1Mbps.

In recent years, SBB has taken a back seat to Ka- and Ku- band systems. Although still used for data on many aircraft, its primary role is now essentially for safety services. Ka- and Ku-band systems dominate the market for connectivity on larger aircraft because they deliver similar experiences to the cabin as a passenger would enjoy on the ground.

Discussing specific data speeds and which band is better is the topic for a future article, but both Ku- and Ka-band deliver data rates in excess of 10Mbps and passengers can now enjoy streaming of content, social media and video conferencing in-flight.

While designed to cover the major air traffic routes of the world, these satellite-based systems do not provide complete global coverage, however, so be sure to review their respective coverage maps. Monthly data plans can also be quite expensive, so take time to choose the one that fits both your flight profile and your budget.

Be Sure to Plan for the Future

Before making that final commitment to invest in a connectivity solution, take the time to confirm the system is scalable, and will not be obsolete in a few years. Ask the MRO to provide a roadmap for future upgrades. (The MRO is the dealer that represents the vendor, and they are required to train their staff to quote and install the product correctly.)

It is also worth having a representative from the vendor present to ensure the information presented is correct, and this can be done in person or virtually.

Be aware that it’s quite possible that even if the system is scalable you will have to add hardware and/or software updates later. Nevertheless, the system you are about to install should be the foundation to any future additions.

As an example, Gogo’s new AVANCE L5 (4G) connectivity system, once installed, becomes the groundwork for Gogo’s ‘Next Gen Gogo 5G’ component, due to start delivering in late 2021. In this case, operators can have the confidence that what they’re installing today, will facilitate the next generation of technology.

For satellite operators who have a Ka- and Ku-band hybrid system, the product is designed so an LRU change (or even just a software change) will satisfy the future upgrade.

Doing proper due diligence today on your inflight connectivity solution will protect you from coyly needing to approach the boss in a few years’ time to inform him that a completely new installation is required to get better connectivity.

Unlike when you are on the ground, you can’t just buy a new phone, tablet or laptop to make the change mid-air. Far more thought needs to go into your planning process.

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Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

Editor, Jet Connectivity

Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director of Key Accounts at Gogo Business Aviation

Having worked 35 years in Business Aviation, Brian lists Jet Aviation West Palm Beach and Banyan Aviation amongst his previous employers where he has developed and planned STC certifications projects on cabin connectivity. He has been involved in more than 1,000 avionics installations, having previously headed up various avionics, engineering, and interior departments.



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