Inmarsat says testing of aviation safety services for the air transport market over its L-band SwiftBroadband (SBB) solution is under way.
Hawaiian Airlines is believed to be involved in the tests using a Boeing 767-300 aircraft equipped with Cobham satcom equipment.
The FANS (Future Air Navigation) flight tests will ensure that the service meets the ICAO GOLD RCP240 requirements. This means SwiftBroadband will have to meet the stringent efficiency requirement for the passing of air traffic management (ATM) instructions of 99.99% availability.
Other work has included the implementation of Acars Ground Gateways (AGGWs) at Inmarsat’s satellite access stations (SASs) to enable them to carry FANS/ACARS safety messages.
There have also been updates to the Inmarsat voice and data networks to ensure priority for safety services messages.
Once certified, an aircraft using safety services over SBB will have to have two satellite voice channels (with priority given to the cockpit and safety services data), plus ACARS and EFB data.
The ability to pass new ATM procedures over SBB could also radically improve fuel efficiency by enabling “user preferred routes”. Recent initiatives demonstrated that fuel savings of around $500-1000 per flight could be achieved.
The company says it aims to get ICAO certification for air transport safety services over SBB in 2015.
Aviation safety services are currently only approved on Inmarsat’s older “Classic” aero services. With the I-3 satellites coming to the end of their design life the move to SBB over its I-4s will eventually become a neccessity.
One of the key milestones for this to happen was the successful launch of the Alphasat I-XL satellite last year.
Alphasat is a high-power telecom satellite built by Astrium, through a public-private partnership between ESA and Inmarsat.
Weighing more than 6,600 kg, Alphasat is based on the new European Alphabus telecommunications platform developed by Astrium and Thales Alenia Space under joint contract from ESA and the French space agency, CNES.
Alphasat has extended Inmarsat’s current L-band BGAN services, providing an additional 7 MHz of spectrum over Europe, the Middle East, Africa and parts of Asia, from its 25 degree East geostationary orbital position.
It is this spectrum, plus SBB’s higher data speeds that make it attractive for safety services. While SBB offers data speeds of up to 432kbps (over a high-gain antenna), Inmarsat’s “Classic” Aero H services over its I-3 satellites only provide packet data rates of up to 10.5kbps for ACARS, FANS and ATN communications and up to 9.6kbps per channel for multi-channel voice, fax and data links through a high gain-antenna.
The Classic Aero H service is due for closure at the end of 2018 – the design life of the I-3 satellites. Users on Aero-H+ will be migrated to the Classic Aero I-4 network.
Inmarsat president Miranda Mills confirmed to Get Connected at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg last month that testing of Safety Services over SBB is ongoing. She also confirmed that there are currently no plans to have aviation safety services certified over its upcoming Global Express Ka-band service over its I-5 satellites.
But she added that there are plans for further L-band (SwiftBroadband) satellite launches in the future.
“The I-4 satellites have a design life of up to 2022-23,” Mills said. “So expect to see a number of Inmarsat I-6 L-band satellite launches towards the end of the decade or in the early 2020s.”
It looks like Inmarsat will keep its Global Xpress Ka-band services over the I-5 satellites for high bandwidth applications, such as streaming video and internet access. The current L-band SwiftBroadband services over the I-4 and Alphasat satellites will be kept for lower-bandwidth applications, including safety services.
Inmarsat is currently advertising for an aviation safety services business manager at its City Road, London, offices to “drive overall revenue performance and growth for Inmarsat’s safety services portfolio”.