A joint venture has been agreed between British satellite company, Inmarsat, and Beijing’s Marine Communications and Navigation (MCN) to develop aircraft communications solutions for the cabin and the flight deck for the Chinese commercial aviation market.
Inmarsat’s latest offering, GX Aviation, will feature highly in the joint venture, providing in-flight connectivity solutions to give global coverage, as will SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S).
China’s aircraft passengers will soon be able to enjoy broadband at speeds comparable to the ground-based services, and will be able to use their personal mobile devices.
The agreement is expected to be finalised later this year.
Inmarsat, the British satellite company that sprang into the headlines earlier this year when they aided the search for lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, have said that they have conducted tests that show the possibilities for tracking flights at 15 minute intervals without the need for elevated costs.
The tests, conducted with Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia, highlighted that current technology is capable of identifying aircraft positioning every 15 minutes, effectively supporting the ICAO plan to scrap current 30-40 minute reporting intervals.
Inmarsat suggested that 15-minute reporting intervals are possible without raising costs, creating a ‘good balance’ between monitoring requirements, limitations of the system installed and the cost of operation.
The development of a high-speed ‘hybrid’ air-to-ground SATCOM service is being discussed in a new partnership agreement between Alcatel-Lucent and British satellite communications company, Inmarsat this week. The ATG SATCOM service will provide a new telecom network for commercial and business aviation operators throughout Europe and promises to deliver speeds of up to 75 Mbps.
Combining Alcatel’s 4G LTE S-band technology with Inmarsat’s Europasat will offer a new broadband service ‘Europe-wide’. The partnership are collaborating on the ground network and have submitted applications for licenses in all EU member states, 23 of which have already been authorised according to Inmarsat. As yet, no customers or hardware partners have been formally named, but the companies revealed that they are in ongoing discussions.
Leo Mondale, Inmarsat president, said, “These enhanced capabilities across Europe will be offered alongside Inmarsat’s GX aviation services, extending Inmarsat’s broadband service coverage for aviation passengers seamlessly.”
Commercial introduction is expected towards the end of 2016, although field trials have already been conducted of the Alcatel-Lucent system back in 2011.
Inmarsat, British satellite communications network is considering the possibility of becoming a direct provider of its integrated air-to-ground (ATG)-S band inflight connectivity service, soon to be launched in Europe. Currently, Inmarsat partners with resellers for its services.
Leo Mondale, Inmarsat president of aviation said, “Going direct is not a strategy or goal of ours per say, but we’re looking at a pretty dramatically changing environment when giant name brands in telecommunications are entering the business, and so there is much higher interest in adjacent markets like mobile communications to cause us to want to study the right way to go to the market.”
Although no fixed plans have been settled, Inmarsat are considering an industry sector that is consistently selling bundles, and following ViaSat’s decision to sell directly to airlines, partnering with Thales/LiveTV, the satellite giant is looking at the sector with a different set of eyes.
“We are actually just a connectivity provider,” says Mondale. We don’t build equipment, and we don’t want to sell content. Our bundle is multiple connectivity platforms, given to the right geography, irrespective of what type of aircraft or how big a fleet. That makes us different because we’re not saying ‘buy IFE and we’ll give you connectivity for free’. We say ‘you decide, and we want to give you the best connectivity.”
Inmarsat are in no hurry to make a decision, and are considering all their options. Current reseller partnerships will not be affected.
It has been announced that Inmarsat, the British satellite company, is testing its ACARS-capable SwiftBroadband safety equipment on an Airbus A319. SwiftBroadband Safety is for the fast, reliable and efficient delivery of ACARS messaging over the SwiftBroadband link and also supports flight deck voice services and IP connectivity to the flight deck for mission-critical transmissions.
“This is the start of a revolution in communications for the flight deck. It shows the way forward for Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) for the nearly 10,000 aircraft currently relying on our Inmarsat Classic Aero services, which were launched over 20 years ago,” said Leo Mondale, Inmarsat’s President of Aviation. “SB Safety provides prioritised voice and ACARS/FANS data transmission when an aircraft is out of reach of land-based communications, which is indispensable for aircraft flying over oceans.”
Updates and other flight operations messaging can be enabled, such as inflight updates to the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) and Flight Data Recorder equipment.
SwiftBroadband (SB) Safety can be operated on all types of aircraft, from large passenger aircraft to business jets and is expected to achieve certification during early 2016.
“A key point is that SB Safety provides a prioritised IP data pipe for the cockpit, for both security and continuity of service” Mondale added. “This is particularly important for airlines that use SwiftBroadband for both safety services and cabin connectivity.”
Inmarsat, the British satellite company that suggested the new search area for flight MH370, has offered its current customers free basic aircraft tracking in light of the tragedy.
Inmarsat have 11,000 commercial passenger aircraft amongst its customers, equipped with their satellite technology and have made their offer as an immediate address to the subject of aircraft tracking that has graced many boardroom tables since the aircraft was reported missing.
“This offer responsibly, quickly and at little or no cost to the industry, addresses in part the problem brought to light by the recent tragic events around MH370,” said Inmarsat CEO, Rupert Pearce.
In addition, Inmarsat have discussed the provision of an ‘in-cloud black box’ system that would be capable of streaming historic and real-time flight data, including cockpit voice recording. The ICAO will be taking these discussions further during the meeting in Montreal this week to discuss the technological requirements for the provision of the necessary equipment to ensure that the tragic events of MH370 are not repeated.
A set of standards are expected to be released following these talks, which will be attended by more than 40 representatives of all areas of aviation, airports, ATS and airlines.
Following a two-week search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, regretfully confirmed the loss of the Boeing 777 after information provided by UK satellite company Inmarsat and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
Inmarsat explained that CPDLC – Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications, the ACARS system onboard responded to text ‘handshakes’ send periodically via Inmarsat ground stations to the satellite network, then onto the aircraft. When an aircraft is within range, or over land, the ACARS messages are relayed over VHF radio.
Inmarsat and AAIB have been involved in the global operation to find the missing aircraft since 15th March and provided the data that enabled the investigators to indicate the likelihood of the plane taking the northern and southern corridors. Further calculations using the data provided have led to the conclusion that flight MH370 found its final resting place in the Indian Ocean.
CPDLC uses electronic data messages relayed to the ground via the satellite networks and carries information such as route instructions, clearances and NOTAMs. It was discovered that the onboard communications services had been manually shut down during the early stages of the flight. The datalink systems will however, continue to respond to the electronic handshakes while the flight is operational.
Until the flight recorder is recovered, we will never truly understand the nature of the disaster that has befallen the aircraft nor the plight of the passengers and crew.
It has recently been announced that the Critical Design Review (CDR) has been completed by Honeywell and Inmarsat for the avionics of GX Aviation.
The launch of GX Aviation, scheduled for 2015, will bring in-flight connection speeds equivalent to those on the ground, as promised by both Honeywell and ARINC, who signed an agreement in October. The agreement is expected to provide Inmarsat’s GX Aviation to the business aviation sector.
Currently, GX Aviation uses Ka-band satellites, which offers the high-speed connections. After the agreement was signed in October, Inmarsat and Honeywell announced three new satellites planned for the Global Xpress network, the first of which was launched in December last year.
Miranda Mills, Inmarsat Aviation president is confident that the GX Aviation program and the Honeywell avionics will be ready for the service launch in 2015, she said ‘A comprehensive team from both Inmarsat and Honeywell has completed its analysis of every aspect of Honeywell’s satcom system to ensure it meets all our design criteria.’