Jet Connectivity: What's Really Needed on Shorter Flights?

Is there a good reason not to have onboard WiFi on smaller business aircraft? How much is really necessary when most flights only last under 90 minutes? Brian Wilson provides some insights and advice…

Brian Wilson  |  22nd October 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...

    Executives on a Beechcraft King Air use their phones in-flight

    My job requires me to travel every month, and that usually requires me to fly commercially. While I’m traveling, there is always the need to be accessible to clients and colleagues...

    Flights from the major airline hubs are usually aboard the larger aircraft, and the connectivity is sufficient to get my job done. The shorter legs tend to be on smaller regional jets, and I am faced with either very limited connectivity or none at all. Compounding the frustration, I am forced to digest banter from the cabin attendants that “it’s only a one hour flight”.

    One hour or not, how can an airline justify such a disparity in passenger experience?

    Could it be that corporate jet passengers face the same gap in the cabin connectivity market? 

    Imagine the CEO and CFO of a large corporation chartering a Gulfstream G550 from Europe to the US. Crossing the Atlantic, they prepare for an important meeting, while corresponding with their colleagues back at headquarters.

    The next leg has them transitioning to a smaller Embraer Phenom 300 or Beechcraft King Air 350i allowing them access the small airport with a short runway nestled closest to their destination. The final presentation needs a last adjustment and fresh data – but that proves to be problematic since the aircraft does not have sufficient Wi-Fi!

    Cost Versus Competitive Advantage

    Based on the above scenario, it’s easy to imagine the charter company would not see repeat business from this client. Moreover, word of mouth travels faster, and negative reports tend to be more damaging than the best marketing effort. One social media post saying “I enjoyed the flight, however the Wi-Fi was insufficient” will surely deter potential new business.

    When answering the question of how much connectivity is really necessary on a shorter Business Aviation flight, cost versus competitive advantage is a consideration that needs making.

    Charter companies in particular cannot allow such a disproportion of service to their clients today. Management companies that provide fractional shares face the same challenges. I have witnessed many roundtable discussions where the CEO is pleading for the managed fleet to upgrade their Wi-Fi so they can capture a larger market share.

    Smaller Fuselage is a Receding Excuse

    While the smaller fuselage associated with Turboprops, Light and Medium Jets have traditionally inhibited their ability to have viable connectivity solutions, advancements in technology and antenna design have opened the door for this segment of the market.

    The installation price and associated monthly data charges put a strain on ancillary budgets within this class, however, some vendors have reacted to the down market by making the pricing more attractive through customer loyalty programs.

    As an example, Gogo Business Aviation is offering incentives including rebates of up to $25,000. Once the installation is completed and the system activated, the owner receives a check within a few weeks. On some of the options provided by Gogo, the monthly service has a very affordable pay-by-the hour program, and owner/pilots can track their usage and costs based on how many hours they flew that month.

    What’s more, the residual value of installing Wi-Fi on an aircraft is compelling. Seldom does an aircraft transaction occur without a discussion on connectivity being at the top of the list.

    I receive frequent calls from aircraft brokers wishing to consult about what is currently installed on an airplane, and, more importantly, what ‘should’ be installed.

    Merely ticking the box on the aircraft profile that says it has connectivity no longer closes the deal like it once did. Clients are becoming smarter about which systems perform and meet their needs and expectations. Connectivity can be a differentiator between Aircraft A and Aircraft B on the shopping list.

    When I’m talking to aircraft brokers, personnel associated with charter and management companies, or the aircraft owners themselves, I always switch the conversation from “Why should I make this investment?” to “Why you can’t afford to not make the investment”. The talking points then center on the following:

    • What is the right system for the aircraft?
    • Why is the correct system an investment? (Positive ROI)
    • How much additional revenue can be generated?
    • Can market share be increased?
    • What vendor incentives are available to offset the investment?

    When considering just how much connectivity is really needed for shorter business jet and turboprop flights, although the larger airframes will have more functionality, having the right system aboard the aircraft will keep clients and passengers satisfied.

    Meeting the Client’s/Passengers’ Expectations

    The goal of Business Aviation – whether the company flight department or a charter/fractional ownership provider – is to always fulfill the expectations and needs of the passengers.

    Inevitably, the passenger wants the same connectivity experience in the air as they have on the ground. This is a challenge, even with the larger airframes. The key is to match the best solution, within budget, with the capabilities requested by the passengers.

    Keep in mind that the installation costs are only one factor when you’re considering the upgrade. Consider the following aspects to the overall cost:

    • Monthly service costs should be fully evaluated and assessed (per flight hour, each month).
    • Not all service costs are fixed – what overages will apply (usually this is where streaming of content is possible).
    • What will the downtime be? Each day an aircraft is on the ground, revenue potential is reduced. Performing any upgrade during a maintenance inspection is a best practice.

    There will always be more budgetary restraints on smaller airframes, so it’s usually best to understand which cabin connectivity capabilities will satisfy the majority of passengers, as opposed to everyone.

    Keep in mind that the average flight is likely to be less than ninety minutes, so gaining the ability to stream a movie or download a large PowerPoint deck may not be a justifiable investment. Most clients understand the limitations associated with their smaller airframes, so performing normal daily activities such as email, text, voice calls and light internet should suffice.

    Laminated seat-back instruction cards and crew-to-passenger briefings can help eliminate most unfiltered feedback, enabling passenger expectations to be met without breaking the budget.

    What are the Leading Connectivity Solutions for Lighter Aircraft?

    For operators in the United States, Gogo Business Aviation offers two economical solutions that provide different capabilities. These include:

    • AVANCE L3: Gogo’s most affordable platform-based solution, providing a solid broadband connection. The AVANCE L3 comes with three pricing options and multiple data plans.
    • AVANCE L5: Delivers the Gogo Biz 4G inflight experience, streaming video and audio; providing on-demand movies, moving maps and flight information; and enabling personal smartphone use, real-time data for cockpit apps, and remote diagnostics.

    For operators outside the US, SwiftBroadBand (SBB) is still the most viable solution. These satellite-based systems provide connectivity, but the speed and capabilities are very limited.

    A thorough understanding of the performance of SBB is advised before any investments are made by owners/operators. Meanwhile, the European Aviation Network (EAN), first announced in 2015, is a hybrid air-to-ground and satellite-based system, but is still not available for the private jet market.

    In Conclusion

    The lighter jet market has more options than ever before to get connected. It also has an even more compelling reason for operators to equip with a suitable connectivity system, as discussed above.

    Coupled with pricing incentives and a maintenance inspection (to reduce the installation cost and the time the aircraft is out of service), it is now time to focus on ‘why’ you need cabin connectivity onboard your aircraft, providing ultimate passenger satisfaction.

    Or, for the latest Cabin Electronics articles, answers to your FAQs, quick tips and more, visit the Cabin Electronics for Private Planes hub.

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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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