Speaking at the 2016 Aircraft eEnablement Connectivity and IFE Conference, Tim Anstey, Boeing’s Technical Fellow, asked what kind of aircraft connectivity do we need, how much bandwidth do we require and how do we interface this with our ground systems?
He also asked how an airline can bring these features to its existing fleets?
Anstey said that Boeing has adopted a network-based approach to eEnablement. He said that fleet-wide commonality was desirable, but not essential.
“When we consider a fleet we look at how we can adopt commonality across a mixed fleet,” said Anstey. “But experience tells us that there are a number of options.”
He said that some airlines want to adopt a standard solution across their whole fleet, but most look at the core functions they need and hardware selection is made according to those needs.
He said that iPads might be used across a whole fleet, but the hardware connectivity could vary.
“From an operational point, while ACARS is universal it is slow and expensive. Inmarsat’s L-band SwiftBroadband went some way to improving that, but we really need to look at Ku and Ka-band satellite connectivity for the future,” said Anstey.
“When you evaluate the connectivity options for eEnablement you have to ask if you really need to be able to download data while the aircraft is in the air – Gatelink can be fine for many applications.
“But I’m really curious as to how we can leverage the latest and future connectivity technology, such as high-bandwidth low-earth orbiting satellites and air-to-ground networks, for eEnablement.
“And when you looking at the options available, don’t ignore your ground systems. There is no right way to do this. Your use cases will mean airlines may all end up with a different solution.
“If you are going to retrofit your fleet don’t look to do everything at once – look to see how you can incrementally introduce connectivity across your fleet.”
Anstey said: “An integrated network on a cross-model basis is more challenging. Probably the biggest challenge is getting all the various teams involved across a fleet on the same page. It can become more of a human issue than a technical one.”
He said that few airlines are taking advantage of all the data available from an aircraft, adding that some are taking advantage of the Quick Access Recorder (QAR) data, but there is a lot more available.
Anstey added: “From the standpoint of cyber security, we aim to prevent any attacks and have to presume that there could be failures in any system. We therefore have specific requirements about encryption and exactly what an aircraft can connect to on the ground – we don’t use open internet connections.”
“In production, we often get focused on new aircraft, but it is equally important to bring airlines in to look at their existing fleets and older aircraft.”