Can you Justify a Cabin Data-speed Increase?

If you sense a need for more data-speed aboard your jet, how and when should you build the case, and what differentiates ‘need’ from ‘want’? Brian Wilson provides some perspectives...

Brian Wilson  |  18th October 2023
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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...

    Can you afford better data speed in your private jet cabin

    Vacationing in Germany, I rented a low-cost Italian roadster to drive from Hamburg to Berlin. I soon found myself on the autobahn where I quickly regretted not selecting a faster (more expensive) Mercedes or BMW.

    No doubt when you originally chose the connectivity system for your aircraft you participated in a ‘cost versus speed’ discussion. Or perhaps the system was already installed when you purchased the aircraft.

    Let’s assume that you are now faced with the same dilemma with your aircraft’s cabin data speed that I had with the Italian roadster: you wish you had more.

    Though I simply needed to exchange my hire car for another one, when it comes to data speed in an aircraft’s cabin your transition will require far more scrutiny and a thorough review of the available options. Business jet owners tend to be faced with two choices: Upgrade the existing Wi-Fi system or install a completely new one.

    In aviation there is a direct correlation between data speed and cost both in terms of hardware and the monthly service charges, and these can be significant.

    While passengers aboard today’s business jets have come to expect the same connectivity in the cabin as in the office or at home, it’s important to be proactive towards anticipating the expectation and making the necessary upgrade, rather than reactive to passenger complaints.

    A good time to review the need for more data speed is a few months before a big maintenance inspection is due, allowing you to take advantage of the scheduled downtime and possible interior removal.

    Similarly, seasoned flight departments usually allocate an annual budget for keeping their aircraft current in both regulatory terms and through its ancillary systems. This is a perfect time to investigate the options for a cabin system data-speed update.

    Jet connectivity providers frequently release promotions to generate interest in their new products and the most lucrative incentives can offer substantial rebates. Sometimes these are worth as much as $25k to $50k once their system is installed and activated.

    Building the Case for More Cabin Data-Speed

    Separate Need from Want: Though the prospect of upgrading your business jet’s cabin Wi-Fi with a solution offering the fastest data speeds and latest technology can be easy to get carried away with, it’s vital to slow down and look at the costs.

    When it comes to aircraft connectivity, separate ‘need’ from ‘want’. Clarify your understanding of how the aircraft is being used. For example:

    • Are the flights generally for business or pleasure purposes?
    • Are the flights domestic or international?
    • What is a normal passenger load (and how many carry-on devices do passengers average)?
    • Create a profile of the ten most regular passengers who use the aircraft. What are their standard requirements?
    • Will the aircraft be used for charter? If so, what additional requirements might this bring in terms of aircraft connectivity, and can the data costs that are incurred through charter use be offset?

    The answers to the above questions will help you get a firm grasp of any actual need for an upgrade to the cabin’s Wi-Fi solution. Sudden changes in personnel can also impact the mission profile of the aircraft.

    For example, a departing CEO who was happy receiving simple emails and voice calls may be replaced by a CEO wanting visual information in real time. Or a family using a jet for personal travel could see their connectivity needs develop as their children grow older.

    In the case where the aircraft is primarily used for business purposes and the passengers frequently include the executive team, then streaming for video conferencing is likely to be a priority.

    If, however, the aircraft is primarily used for pleasure and flies a few hundred hours of charter annually, it’s worth analyzing the additional costs for streaming. The requirement may be less of a need and more of a want, in which case the costs of an upgrade could be harder to justify.

    The Return on Investment: Another factor that could justify more cabin data speed would be the Return on Investment (ROI).

    Ten years ago, if your business jet simply had ‘connectivity’ it ticked the box. Today, older systems that don’t produce at least a few Megabytes of data speed per second are frowned upon. There’s greater emphasis on the aircraft’s connectivity solution during Pre-Buy Inspections, and sales of pre-owned jets can be delayed and price negotiations prolonged if an inadequate system is installed.

    Therefore, upgrading the Wi-Fi prior to selling the jet may be a worthwhile consideration, and could make the aircraft stand out among the competition on the market, leading to a faster sale.

    Owners planning to keep their aircraft can also find the potential ROI justifies an upgrade. A simple analysis of the value of the passengers’ time (such as a Senior Sales Executive or the CEO), and how the appropriate level of connectivity could enable them to operate at their full capacity in-flight, could have its paybacks.

    Moreover, aircraft owners who place their jets with a management company will find that many require the aircraft to be made available for charter. The revenues generated from charter flights can help offset the operating costs of the aircraft, while the data that is used may be charged to the charter customer and is therefore offset.

    From experience, the first commodity an aircraft management company will focus on is the aircraft’s connectivity system. Not only will they evaluate what is onboard, many will require a certain level of capability before offering the airplane for charter.

    Charter is a highly competitive market with charter brokers always looking for ‘the differentiator’ when selecting an aircraft for a client. Having a modern, high-speed data system onboard will move your aircraft to the front of the line to earn cost-offsetting charter revenue.

    In Summary...

    It is hoped the factors discussed within the preceding paragraphs will help you get to the bottom of what drives your desire to upgrade your aircraft’s cabin data-speeds.

    Almost every time a company or individual trades their aircraft in, it’s because the new aircraft can fly further and faster. Perhaps, for example, the replacement aircraft can achieve the typical mission without needing the fuel stop the old jet required. Although convenient, this usually comes at considerable cost.

    Where there’s a need (as opposed to a want) there tends to be a way to justify additional expense. It is no different with your aircraft’s cabin connectivity solution. All of us use our phones, tablets, and laptops every day and we have an expectation as to how they should perform. That expectation doesn’t need to be left outside the aircraft’s door as you step on board...

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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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