What’s Your Best Jet Connectivity Solution Today?

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to connectivity solutions for your aircraft cabin – especially for owners of larger jets. How can you whittle down the choices and pick the best one for you? Brian Wilson offers advice...

Brian Wilson  |  27th June 2022
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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...

    A young executive works on a laptop aboard a private jet

    Searching for the best connectivity solution for your business jet or turboprop can be a daunting task, and finding the time to properly prepare, research, and plan your upgrade can be challenging, too.

    Nevertheless, experience shows that many times owners of aircraft put the cart before the horse, focusing on the product too much, instead of the vetting process. As with the quarterback of a football team, it’s important for the aviation department to huddle around and outline the selection process. Here are some pointers...

    Who Will Use the Jet, and How?

    First, it is essential to understand the aircraft’s mission profile. Begin with identifying who are the top ten passengers that will frequently fly aboard the jet? Devising a short questionnaire and asking those key passengers for their feedback shouldn’t be a problem.

    The questionnaire should ask them to describe what a perfect connectivity experience would mean to them. Having a clear understanding of this will help you select a connectivity solution to meet their expectations.

    It’s important to keep in mind that the passengers usually don’t have the same high-level of technical aptitude as the people designing the systems. So, when your passengers use the connectivity system, how easy will it be for them to operate?

    The likelihood is that there will be some variance between the expectation and the reality, so it’s important to first understand what the differences are, and then clearly communicate the differences, and the reasons to the passengers.

    For those planning to make some revenue from the aircraft through charter when it’s not in company use, there are some additional items to consider. For example, many of today’s connectivity systems have the capability to stream data. Although this is a nice feature to have, the cost is very high.

    The best practice is either to have a remote web-based portal that allows you to block streaming, or design a customer portal that requires the client to sign up and pay to stream.

    How Many Passengers and Devices

    Most of the regular travelers reading this article have experienced being stuck at the airport due to delays. The corridors and gates are packed with people using the Wi-Fi to help them find solutions to their problem. You may recall how frustratingly slow the Wi-Fi became; how hard it was to connect to, with data rates becoming infuriatingly slow.

    If heavy demand on the ground caused you frustration, imagine sitting aboard a private aircraft full of passengers all competing for bandwidth on an inadequate cabin connectivity solution. Ultimately, an aircraft’s limited bandwidth – whether Air-to-Ground (ATG) or SwiftBroadBand (SBB) based – will be impacted by:

    • The number of passengers using it,
    • The number of devices connected to the system,
    • How the system is being utilized (i.e. text and email, or streaming).

    Remember, too, that if a passenger or crew member has previously flown on the aircraft and used the Wi-Fi, their devices will automatically connect. iPhones, tablets, laptops, and watches – each passenger could have multiple devices trying to connect to one system, all with applications running background data and updates.

    Therefore, it’s important to understand the limitations of each system you’re considering upgrading to, and communicating any limitations of the system you eventually select to the passengers...

    • Remind passengers and crew to turn off the Wi-Fi on devices not in use.
    • Streaming consumes a lot of bandwidth and usually there are limitations to how many streams the system can handle (when we’re talking about streaming, that includes Facetime).
    • Keep in mind that while VPNs are very popular with business travelers, they, too, absorb lots of bandwidth.

    Essentially, finding the best connectivity solution for your jet will require you to dig a little deeper, not just into your top passengers’ wish list. You should also take time to discover what activities are essential to them on flight, discerning the difference between ‘nice-to-have’ and ‘need to have’.

    What’s Size Got to Do with It?

    Once you begin narrowing down the options based on passenger profile, you’ll need to align the jet connectivity solutions available to the size of your aircraft. Unforgettably, the engineer from one well-known industry vendor once told me, “The race is in the antenna”. 

    He’s absolutely right... Cast your mind back to the first- generation satellite antennas for home Sky TV systems, which needed to be installed in the back yard due to their size and weight. Today’s TV antennas are small and light enough to be bolted directly to the side of the home, or on the roof.

    Aircraft satellite-based systems, however, have not changed much in the last 20 years. So, a large antenna is still required to deliver high data-rates to the aircraft. , thus some solutions will not be available to operators of Turboprops, Light and Mid-Size Jet due to the size of the antennas that need to be attached to the fuselage.

    The options for Super Mid-Size and Large Jets are less limited for this reason.

    Where Will you Travel?

    Outside the United States, aircraft are still limited to the following Satellite based systems:

    • Ku- and Ka-band for Super Mid-Size and Large Jets.
    • SwiftBroadBand and Iridium for everyone else.

    In contrast, within the US, Gogo’s ATG is the dominant player, and the only vendor with a 100% CONUS network. Many US-based aircraft have a combination of ATG and satellite connectivity for redundancy, and to increase reliability.

    It will be important to consult at least three leading MROs in your region to learn about the connectivity systems and solutions that are available, and which will best satisfy your passenger expectations, based on the airframe you operate.

    While Super Mid-Size and Large Jets are easily capable of transcontinental travel, smaller aircraft with shorter ranges tend to primarily fly within a specific region. Nevertheless, they may be required to fly to smaller island chains, and internationally, on occasion.

    For example, aircraft based in the United States fly anywhere from 80-95% of their legs within US borders. The other 5-20% can be either international (including South America), or to surrounding islands. 

    The flight routes you anticipate flying matter a great deal to your selection of the best cabin connectivity solution. Begin by pinpointing those destinations on the coverage maps associated with the various systems you’re considering installing.

    Keep in mind that when it comes to Light to Mid-Size Jets, you are likely to need two sources of connectivity on-board. This is because of the antenna size that’s required for a Ku- or Ka-band solution. The larger aircraft have the airframe size and budget to support such an installation, whereas smaller aircraft don’t.

    The normal configuration for these aircraft may include Gogo’s ATG system (for travel within the States) augmented with SBB for international travel, with each system complimenting the other throughout the journey.

    What do Passengers Need to Know/Do?

    Once you’ve decided on the best system for your jet, had it installed, and are ready to use it, you’ll need to make sure your passengers are briefed. Here’s a checklist for you to work with:

    • Are there any shortfalls between what the passengers envisioned as a perfect connectivity system and the actual capabilities of the system installed?

    - Can the passengers stream data?
    - If yes, how many passengers can stream data simultaneously?
    - Can you do video calls, Facetime or Wi-Fi calling?

    • Do passengers need to download apps prior to boarding the aircraft?
    • Some systems require applications to be loaded while on the ground, while some have them stored in the LRU on board the aircraft. Which is the case for your system?
    • Ku-Band, Ka-Band and SwiftBroadBand (SBB) systems all have areas of the world for which they don’t provide coverage. Identify these and brief the passengers.
    • Today’s systems are very complex. You shouldn’t expect the passengers to attend a pre-flight briefing or remember everything. Consider placing laminated briefing cards and user guides within the cabin for passengers.
    • Where two connectivity systems are operating on board, the variance in performance from one to the other can be remarkable. This is always associated with the data rates and user experience. To avoid passenger frustration, be clear in communicating the differences to your passengers.

    In Summary...

    With a practical, clear, common-sense approach, and in tandem with the expert advice of a few trusted MRO centers, you will be able to narrow-down the best connectivity solution(s) that can meet passenger needs on your jet.

    Read more on Jet Connectivity

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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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