There are many amenities available to an aircraft operator whether it is for a new aircraft or a recently acquired pre-owned aircraft. An aircraft is first and foremost a tool and requires amenities for maximizing that tool. One issue that is always changing and often causes the most confusion is Cabin Communications. This aviation articles will deal with current and future airborne communication systems. In the last 20 years our society ...
There are many amenities available to an aircraft operator whether it is for a new aircraft or a recently acquired pre-owned aircraft. An aircraft is first and foremost a tool and requires amenities for maximizing that tool. One issue that is always changing and often causes the most confusion is Cabin Communications. This aviation articles will deal with current and future airborne communication systems.
In the last 20 years our society has come a long way in handling communication. When corporate aviation increased during the jet age with the early Learjets- Sabreliners- Gulfstreams etc.- the airborne communication systems were generally regulated to the cockpit only. Crew would use VHF and UHF for aviation communications and navigation purposes only. The concept of having a passenger communicate with the office just wasn’t a feasible option at the time.
With the advent of satellites and cellular communications in the late 70’s as a result of the space race all of that changed. The USA and USSR were pushing the envelope for space exploration thus the requirement for constant communications during space flight became critical for the success of the flight. As such numerous satellites were launched to assist in communications and thus begun the era of consistent airborne communications.
With ground based systems- radios were limited to line of sight or ground-based booster stations. With satellites these restrictions were removed and thus constant communications was now possible. In time the power of constant communication would find its way from military to the consumer market.
In no time the ‘office in the sky’ needed to communicate with the office on the ground. Initial costs were rather high for airborne communications but as more companies’ desire for constant communications grew- the prices began to drop to an acceptable level today that the corporate market will bear. To better understand what is available for airborne communications- let’s begin by understanding the various systems and how they function.
Airborne communications basically fall under three categories: 1) Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) Inmarsat Satellites; 2) Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Iridium Satellites; 3) Ground Based Communications- non-satellite system.
GEO Inmarsat Satellite Network
The Inmarsat satellite network consists of 10 satellites operating at a high altitude of 900 nautical miles (4-500-000 ft) above the planet in orbit. These satellites orbit directly over the equator and remain in geosynchronous orbit with the earth’s rotation. Inmarsat network basically uses fewer satellites at a higher altitude to provide voice and data communications- and is extensively utilized by the US military- which required a secured system (first to utilize turbo coding) for their airborne communications network.
Due to the high altitude and technological complexity of these satellites- this system will require the use of only four satellites by 2016 to enable both voice and date communication globally.
Currently SWIFT 64 is available for data communications but the system is so popular that it is now overloaded. In late 2007 a new version with High[er] Speed Data Broadband will be available for Inmarsat users. The new system will use open additional ports to allow more users and streamline the process between data and voice communications more efficiently.
LEO Iridium Satellite Network
The Iridium satellite network consists of 66 satellites operating at about 420 nautical miles (2-000-000 ft) above the planet in orbit. Iridium uses more satellites at a lower altitude crisscrossing each other to provide voice and data communications. Iridium provides narrowband data capability for additional specialized applications.
Current Iridium systems can utilize internet airborne at a rate of 9.6 kbps. High[er] Speed Data will also be available in early 2008 with worldwide coverage.
Ground Based Systems
Most people know this system as MagnaStar- Flitefone- Verizon Airfone- ARINC and AirCell. This network is referred to as Air-to-Ground and utilizes ground-based stations and is not satellite-based. As such- coverage is available for the Continental US only. Also- it requires an altitude of 10-000 ft to operate- so unlike the satellite system it cannot operate while on the ground or during the early phases of take-off and latter phases of landing.
In 2008 AirCell will provide Broadband service which will provide high-speed link for VoIP (Voiceover Internet Protocall)- internet- e-mail- VPN and video applications.
A program called Axxess will combine the AirCell system with a satellite system to provide coverage during all phases of flight whilst taking advantage of lower rate costs when utilizing AirCell over pure satellite systems for communications. In early 2008 AirCell will offer High Speed Data with a satellite network combined unit for constant communications.
Satellite-based systems can provide relatively seamless communication from take-off to landing. Equipment cost and usage costs are still rather pricy- however. AirCell on the other hand- while only available during cruise and not during take-off and landing- is generally much less expensive in terms of equipment and service costs compared to satellite-based systems.
Combining AirCell with a Satellite system will allow the user to utilize the lower costs while flying in the USA at altitude and switch over to a satellite system when AirCell is no longer feasible for operating (such as when on the ground- during take-off and landing- and flight outside of the continental USA). The system is still relatively new so the switching process from AirCell to Satellite is not quite automatic- and as of this writing no additional information was available.
The costs for a system will vary across the board depending on the requirements of the end user- but essentially- a combined satellite and AirCell system could cost between $50k (voice only) and $350k (voice and high-speed data)- with a monthly and per minute charge for actual usage.
Recently I attended a conference on satellite communications sponsored by Satcom Direct. Vendors- Suppliers and Equipment Providers presented the latest news and technological advances in the industry - check out www.satcomdirect.com for additional information. One thing for sure is that this industry is still evolving and many new developments will be introduced in the next six to 24 months.
Ask your maintenance provider for additional information if you desire to have a communication system installed in your aircraft- and carefully research all of the three systems available. Determine your priority: is it data communications (internet); global voice communications; or USA-only-based communications?
Next time- we will look at additional Interior Amenities- and I encourage our readership to write asking any question pertaining to aircraft interiors or suggestions for future articles where additional information would be helpful. This is an exciting industry to be in and many people are available for assistance just for the asking.
This article was written by Aerospace Concepts (John Brodeur) which specializes in Aircraft Completion Management and Interior Design of large cabin business aircraft. In business since 1998 ACL has managed the completion of over 50 widebody aircraft including 40 Global Express aircraft. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 514-331-7900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information from www.aerospaceconcepts.com