Evolving Connectivity to Serve Smaller Aircraft

Traditionally, the fastest connectivity has been available to larger jets that can accommodate larger antennas on their fuselage. That looks set to change through Satcom Direct’s Plane Simple Antenna Systems…

AvBuyer  |  26th November 2021
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    The AvBuyer editorial team includes Matt Harris and Rebecca Applegarth who contribute to a number of...

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    Dual Variant Plane Simple Tail Mounted Antenna

    Only 15 years ago, successfully sending an SMS from a business jet was cause for celebration. Today, depending on the aircraft and connectivity options, passengers expect unrestricted browsing, movie and news streaming, video chat, and even live gameplay…

    In the cockpit, pilots benefit from unprecedented situational awareness and operational oversight. Powerful real-time weather apps, airport maps, and operational and maintenance systems are together driving improvements in efficiency and, most critically, safety. 

    Now, a new generation of cloud-connected, always-on avionics is emerging. Integrating apps and electronic flight bags, they also enable secure in-cockpit access to third party websites and provide everyone involved in an airplane’s operation with immediate access to aircraft and operational data, anytime, anywhere. 

    These potentially game-changing systems are driven by robust connectivity. It’s no surprise then that for many operators, if the connectivity is down, the airplane stays on the ground. 

    Connectivity may have become flight critical, but the options available for connecting an airplane remain complex. Today’s fastest connections are through Ka- and Ku-band satellite connections, requiring antennas practical only for Super Mid-size Jets and larger. 

    Operators of smaller airplanes must therefore examine the alternatives. For US-based aircraft the best solution may well be an air-to-ground (ATG) system, where smaller antennas provide fast connections, albeit geographically limited. A very basic decision about connectivity is thus fundamentally determined by antenna size. 

    With a system chosen, the process of modification may still be less than straightforward. Existing antennas are less likely to be compatible with new networks, while even the radome may have to change, depending on the frequency of the ‘connectivity pipe’ from the satellite. 

    So, how should you choose a connectivity supplier, with disparate variables to consider, and with every provider promising the highest levels of service and customer support? The answer to that question ultimately depends on the customer, but a single-source, agnostic solution may be the best option.

    Satcom’s Plane Simple Solution 

    Florida-based Satcom Direct (SD) offers agnostic connectivity across the full spectrum of providers, adding value through proprietary software tools and apps that help operators maximize the benefits and efficiency that are enabled through their chosen pipe. 

    The systems also allow integration of third-party services to add value to the flight operation’s eco-system. Returning to the antenna conundrum, SD also builds its own hardware, lately including the Plane Simple Antenna System.

    SD recently proved the Plane SimpleTM Antenna’s compatibility with Intelsat’s FlexExec network during a return trip along the US East Coast and over the North Atlantic to Ireland. 

    Connecting with SD’s Gulfstream G350 through a tail-mount Plane Simple Antenna, FlexExec delivered service to multiple Wi-Fi devices in the cabin via an SDR Gateway router. 

    Business jet antennas have traditionally evolved from larger equipment designed for commercial aircraft. With less space available on a typical business airplane, compromise has been inevitable, with little choice but to accept large, complex, heavy antennas and associated hardware. 

    Developed jointly with Germany’s QEST (Quantenelektronische Systeme) specifically for business jet applications, the Plane Simple Antenna System offers the smallest form factor available. 

    Internally, associated cabling is minimalized, while just two ‘boxes’, the antenna and a modem, complete the fit, promising reduced downtime for installation and lowering cost. And, since the boxes may be installed in a non-pressurized space, there is no need to compromise the luggage hold with avionics boxes, as is often the case with retrofit connectivity solutions. 

    A suite of Plane Simple Satcom Antenna Systems is planned, bringing high-speed connectivity options to smaller aircraft, including Mid-Size Jets previously less well served. They represent an important market segment as customers who may previously have chartered look to aircraft ownership in an increasingly COVID-compliant world. 

    Meanwhile, SD is working to extend the Plane Simple range to platforms as small as the Embraer Phenom 100. Again, working with QEST, the company is incorporating pioneering microhorn technology into a flat panel antenna. 

    Satcom Direct Plane Simple Solution

    Experience and Optimization

    The evolving connectivity landscape is simultaneously delivering service to smaller aircraft while expanding to offer more high-speed satellite and ATG options. On the one hand that’s good news for operators, but on the other it can be confusing. 

    The key to smart buying is to focus on experience and optimization. Assuming airframe and budget compatibility, the fastest service may seem the obvious best choice, but there’s little point paying for unused capacity. 

    An owner expecting only to need SMS and voice-calling may consider a more budget-friendly option, but will they have the bandwidth necessary to exploit the operational benefits of value-added services? 

    Based on the principle that buyers should select their connectivity package to match the experience they desire, SD dips into its Xperience portfolio to best match solutions with customers. The optimal solution may also include SD’s value-added apps, synchronized through the SD Pro platform to enable complete data accessibility across aircraft and flight departments, and access to easily interfaced third-party applications. 

    A further benefit of taking a complete connectivity package from a value-added reseller is single-point billing. Advertised fees easily increase with additional data costs, extras and semi-opaque charges, and multiple subscriptions magnify the challenges of cost control. 

    Billing through a single point not only simplifies the process, but also ensures that should an issue or query arise, the solution is with a single billing entity. 

    The benefit of a single line of communication also applies to problem-solving and customer service. When SD sells a connectivity package it becomes the sole customer contact for all aspects of that package, from cybersecurity through connection issues to hardware compatibility. 

    Customers generally take connectivity for granted; they are more likely to notice it when an issue prevents their iPhone from connecting than when everything works. A proactive approach means emerging issues are frequently identified and fixed before they become a problem – but when a connection does unexpectedly fail, SD is the customer’s single point of contact. 

    Essential Element of Passenger Experience

    Connectivity has become more than a text message sent from 30,000ft. It has become an expected, essential element of the passenger experience. It is also taking on expanded significance as today’s business aircraft navigate through a connected, networked space.

    Datalinks for airplane maintenance data, real-time weather information, situational awareness and support for NextGen/FANS are essential elements in future-proofing business jets while adding layers of additional safety and operational efficiency. 

    Meanwhile, smaller antennas and an expanding list of connectivity options are helping the owners of smaller airplanes reap the benefits previously only enjoyed by large aircraft operators. 

    And for these new market entrants, responses to simple questions about their chosen supplier – ‘Are they proactive in the selection and support processes?’ ‘Do they provide robust, single-point billing and support?’ ‘How do they keep customer data safe?’ ‘Do they match their offer to the customer requirement?’ – will help optimize and inform their future connected experience.

    More information from www.satcomdirect.com

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