Used Jets and Cabin Connectivity: Get it Right!

Are you planning to buy a pre-owned jet? Overlooking the cabin connectivity solution could be a costly mistake, says Brian Wilson. Here's what to look for to ensure the cabin Wi-Fi is right for you...

Brian Wilson  |  12th June 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...

How to tell if your buying a pre-owned jet with good connectivity

Finding a used business jet for the right price can be quite a challenge in today’s competitive market. With many buyers expanding their searches beyond their local markets to the international community, due diligence is paramount to ensure the aircraft complies with all the regulatory requirements back home.

But while a thorough review of the logbooks and aircraft condition are essential to ensuring the aircraft is airworthy and safe, it’s important not to forget another very important area: The jet’s cabin connectivity system should also be well-vetted before the transaction is concluded.

There can be various concerns when it comes to assessing the onboard Wi-Fi system – but we will focus on the five most important.

1. Does the Existing Cabin Connectivity Meet Your Mission Need?

The system that worked for the aircraft’s previous owner will not automatically be the right solution for you. For example, transitioning an aircraft from international operations to US operations, and vice-versa, could have a big impact on the aircraft’s cabin electronics systems, at worst rendering it inoperable.

I received a frantic call only recently from a US-based aircraft broker who had sold an aircraft to a company in Mexico. The understanding had been that the onboard connectivity worked across the Americas, but the reality proved otherwise. The Wi-Fi system was flight tested during the pre-buy inspection in the United States, but nobody had evaluated the actual coverage area.

Too many aircraft specification sheets treat the Wi-Fi system as little more than a tick-box item, indicating cabin connectivity is installed and functional. It is essential to establish the following:

  • Coverage Map: Obtain a precise geographical map identifying the coverage area(s).
  • Regulatory: Does the Wi-Fi certification meet the requirements for where the aircraft will be based?
  • Capabilities: Can the existing system meet the needs of your passengers? This includes video conferencing for business aircraft.
  • Monthly Service Costs: Speed and performance go hand-in-hand with connectivity costs. Service costs alone for Global Satellite systems can run north of $300k annually. Does your flight department have the budget to afford these costs?
  • Customer support: What do you do when something goes wrong? Is the hardware housed in one location on the other side of the world? In terms of customer service, is there an international toll-free number with assistance available 24/7?

It’s important to get the answers to these questions if you want to avoid a situation like our frantic aircraft broker found himself in.

2. What Features Does/Doesn’t the Cabin Connectivity Offer?

There’s a well-known phrase that’s very apt when it comes to the cabin connectivity system: “Can’t see the wood for the trees”.

When buying a business jet, avoid getting caught up with how it’s being described and presented at a surface level. Akin to seeing a newly waxed luxury car with glossed tires which can divert your attention away from missing amenities like rear-view cameras and collision monitoring, it’s so important to clearly understand what you are buying with your jet.

Once you’ve moved past the pristine presentation of the aircraft, how does its cabin connectivity system really perform, and what are its capabilities? 

In most cases – especially with Mid-Size and Large Jets – having Wi-Fi is no longer a baseline requirement. As the range of the typical flight grows, so does the requirement for the Wi-Fi system, which should include:

  • Video streaming
  • Conference calls/Facetime
  • Social media
  • In-Flight Entertainment integration
  • Personal Electronic Device (PED) content distribution to monitors
  • Cabin audio
  • Stored content, onboard movies, TV shows, magazines
  • 3D moving maps, points of interest, zoom in/out feature
  • Custom livery.

Make sure you also evaluate the Cabin Management System (CMS). Many legacy CMS configurations require significant software and/or hardware modifications. Not only can these alterations be expensive, but they can also have long lead times to complete.

3. Are you Sure Your Cabin Connectivity Won’t Become Obsolete?

One concern we can all relate to when it comes to technology is obsolescence. But if we purchase something for our home or personal use and it quickly becomes obsolete due to technical advances, we can easily replace it with the newest product.

That’s far less easily accomplished on a private jet, with an upgrade to a newer product likely to require certification, regulatory compliance, and significant cost and downtime to install.

Before concluding the sale is the time to couple the mission profile for the aircraft with your assessment of how the passenger experience will ideally be.

  • Can the existing Wi-Fi perform to your expectations?
  • Can the onboard CMS be modified for IFEC integration?

If the answers to these questions are both ‘no’, then at a minimum you will need to renegotiate the price with the seller reflecting the cost to equip the aircraft with the systems you need.

4. What if the Jet’s Connectivity System Needs a Performance Boost?

Technology can change very quickly. What is acceptable today can become substandard very quickly. So it’s important to investigate if the aircraft’s installed system was designed to be scalable for the next generation of performance.

Does the architecture within the cabin allow for a suitable upgrade, or will it require a completely new installation? The answers to these questions will help you understand what you are paying for, getting the most out of your investment.

The first place to look is when the installation was completed. If the system was installed more than 8-10 years ago, proceed with caution... Technology has changed significantly over the last decade. Many companies at that time were eager to offer a connectivity product in their portfolio, but you should be careful to establish the quality of that product in today’s market.

Certifying a leading connectivity product for the Business Aviation market usually requires long-term planning and a specific focus on connectivity, with a product being developed with a view to how that product will evolve and be upgraded.

Next, check to see if the current system is a software-based platform. This will allow minor modifications to be completed via the Wi-Fi, either on the ground or in the air. Moreover, diagnostics can be monitored and communicated between the system and the Network Operating Center, and operators can be notified of a pending problem even before it becomes noticeable onboard.

A replacement unit can be sent to your hangar in time for your arrival back home, without any operator involvement.

Hardware-centric systems will, at best, have a fault code in the cockpit. In most cases, however, it will simply have a red fault light on the front of the box which is usually hidden under the floor or in a cabinet.

Although they will usually require an additional box or antenna to be added to the existing system, the cost and downtime required by a software- based system will be substantially reduced.

5. Verify and Test the Connectivity System 

Having covered verification quite a bit already, this final point helps recap some key points, drawing them together. It is worth adding that you should use a third-party consultant to help answer the following questions:

  • How long ago was the connectivity system installed?
  • Which regions of the world does it cover?
  • Is the system integrated to the onboard CMS?
  • Is it a software-centric system that is scalable to the next generation of service?
  • Check the vendor location and customer service network.

When it comes to practically testing the system, many times during a busy pre-buy inspection I have seen the aircraft moved out of the hangar where the antenna can ‘see’ the satellite, a quick test that consists of downloading some files and emails, and the connectivity system signed-off as being present and functional.

Not so fast! Connectivity is a vital part of what makes a business jet into a productivity tool and it needs to be tested properly. Tail mounted satellite systems have a Mechanical Steering Antenna (MSA) designed to track the satellites in all phases of flight. It’s imperative to perform a test flight for a least one hour. During the flight:

  • Make sure the Wi-Fi system stays ‘connected’ during aircraft banking, ascents, and descents.
  • Walk around the cabin to make sure the strength of the Wi-Fi signal remains consistent and continues to function in the cockpit with the door closed.
  • Can the crew download weather and flight plans on their PEDs? Can they do so in the aft of the cabin with the pocket door closed?
  • Activate the microwave, espresso machine and cabin lighting to ensure they cause no interference.
  • Have multiple people connected within the cabin at the same time, using different functions, including social media, streaming and conference calls.
  • Where applicable, test the integration of the connectivity system with the CMS.
  • And ask to see if laminated user guides are available for the passengers.

...And Don’t Forget Security...

One last aspect of the cabin connectivity that buyers of business jets should consider is the system’s security. It is vital that you use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when transmitting company and/or personal information to and from the aircraft to the ground.

VPNs require additional bandwidth to formulate their ‘protective’ tunnel, so make sure you test the performance of the Wi-Fi using multiple VPNs.

In Summary

Data speeds, capabilities, cybersecurity, coverage area and customer support varies depending on the service provider. Once you have vetted the onboard Wi-Fi system and feel you have a good fit, next choose the right service provider.

Unlike the connectivity hardware installed on the aircraft, you have options for your service provider. Be sure that they are the best in class!

Read more articles about Connectivity on AvBuyer's Cabin Electronics 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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