EBACE: Inmarsat Jet ConneX poised for commercial launch

Inmarsat's Kurt Weidemeyer
Inmarsat’s Kurt Weidemeyer

Inmarsat’s Ka-band Jet ConneX (JX) inflight connectivity offering for the business aviation community is nearly ready for full commercial service introduction, but no firm launch date has been set.

Speaking to “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols at Ebace in Geneva, Kurt Weidemeyer, Inmarsat’s VP Strategy and Business, said that it wants to make sure all the glitches are ironed out before launch.

It seems the comment made two weeks ago by Inmarsat’s Frederick Van Essen that the full launch of Global Xpress, which is the backbone for JX, was “imminent” may have been a little optimistic – or, at least, Inmarsat’s interpretation of the word “imminent” may be open to debate.

Jet ConneX

Honeywell's Jack Jacobs and its tail-mounted antenna for JetConneX.
Honeywell’s Jack Jacobs and its tail-mounted antenna for Jet ConneX.

The best guess now is that we may still be a “few months” away from commercial service introduction for Global Xpress and JX. One Jet ConneX provider who wished to remain nameless said that he had heard it may now be July. Others were as in the dark as the rest of us.

Another view is the system could be launched at a major aviation event. But which one? Farnborough in July is not really seen as a big connectivity show, and beyond that you could be looking at the Apex Expo in Singapore in October. Would Inmarsat really delay the official launch of GX until then?

Weidemeyer pointed out that the maritime arm of the new Ka-band GX service went live on 30th March. He said the network is operating and the satellites are functioning, so there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the whole system.

But feeding and retrieving a satellite signal from a ship is a whole different challenge compared with getting the signal to and from a fast-moving aircraft, plus beam and satellite hand-offs become more tricky.

Which may explain why JX is not quite ready for launch.

“The system works really well,” said Weidemeyer. “It’s the best solution in the market place and we have no concerns.”

Bombardier Global 6000 at Ebace, May 2016.
Bombardier Global 6000 at Ebace.

To underline this Bombardier flew its JX-equipped and STC’d Global 6000 to Ebace, complete with its tail-mount Honeywell antenna. The pilot reported the system worked well, allowing Facetime and Skype calls while over the Atlantic en-route and delivering multi-megabit speeds.

Bombardier is set to start first deliveries of JX-equipped aircraft by the end of Q2 this year.

“We definitely want more aircraft flying with JX,” said Weidemeyer, who said Inmarsat wants to make sure it has “ironed out all the bugs”.

“A lot of our partners are working on STC programmes for a wide range of platforms, he said. “And we want to get them on the network.”

GDC Group announced yesterday that it has made “excellent progress” on the development of Supplemental Type Certificates (STC) for the installation of the Honeywell’s Ka-Band JetWave hardware on different Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

It says the FAA/EASA STCs will be finalised during the 1st quarter of 2017.

Weidemeyer said that it could have a total of 40 different aircraft installed with JX by the end of Q1 2017.

Honeywell

Honeywell's B757 test aircraft at Le Bourget. Image: Honeywell.
Honeywell’s B757 test aircraft.

As well as the Bombardier Global, it is also flying on Honeywell’s Dassault Falcon 900 and Boeing 757 test aircraft.

Weidemeyer added: “We’ll have JX certified and available for both line- and retro-fit within two years.”

Meanwhile, development work is progressing on the innovative Kymeta mTenna Ka-band flat panel antenna that would enable JX to be installed on smaller aircraft that can’t support the tail-mount option.

“The basic mTenna technology has been proven, but there are still discussions to be had about its configuration and size, so the full commercial antenna is probably still at least two years out,” Weidemeyer said.

“In terms of business aircraft, the Kymeta solution is still the best we have for aircraft that can’t take a tail-mount.”

He also confirmed that Inmarsat is reviewing its initial data package offerings for JX, which currently top out at a 15Mbps committed information rate (CIR). Astute readers will remember that JX was originally lauded as being capable of delivering up to 30Mbps to the tail-mount parabolic antenna.

“At launch we want to make sure we can deliver the data rates we have promised and that they are consistent. We promise users they will get their selected committed information rate – it is contractual.

“But we are currently looking at whether to offer higher-speed packages too, if the market wants them and is prepared to pay,” Weidemeyer said.

He said the reality is that a 15Mbps “pipe” to a business aircraft should be more than capable of handling most customers’ data requirements.

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