Inmarsat made an announcement at EBACE that it was going to offer its European Aviation Network (EAN) air-to-ground inflight connectivity to the business aviation community. But what was the thinking behind the move and what can we expect?
Michael Rack, SVP Core Business, Inmarsat Aviation, said: EAN was designed and built for the airlines, but we were trying to decide whether to make it available to business aircraft.
“There was so much demand for it from the industry that we had to go ahead. Having a regional solution for Europe makes a lot of sense,” Rack said.
“We are going to supply a full suite of connectivity solutions for the business aviation market and are going after the small- and mid-size aircraft market – aircraft that are unlikely to fly out of Europe, but where the owners still want connectivity.”
Inmarsat says it expect customers be flying with EAN in early 2019 and has an unnamed launch customer lined up, but not yet signed. The company is now working hard on STCs for the equipment on a range of aircraft types.
Scott Sweet, Market Development Director, OEMs, Inmarsat Business Aviation said: “We have a pretty good understanding of the market and fleet types in the region. Our STC strategy is going to be pretty targeted in terms of who we work with and what we focus on.
“We’ll also be looking at how we can leverage the STCs for multiple operators and multiple models. It is a big job, so we have to make sure that our investment dollars are spent wisely and we get the right models targeted.
Sweet wouldn’t be drawn on what STCs for EAN will come first, but said there are a lot of Cessna, Dassault, Bombardier and Gulfstream aircraft in Europe.
Rack said that the EAN equipment being produced for commercial airlines is also suitable for smaller business jets, but you don’t need to use as many antennas.
“The antennas are already very small, but we have a programme under way right now to see if we can reduce the size and weight of the current equipment even further,” said Rack.
EAN equipment is already installed on a number of commercial launch customer IAG’s aircraft, but the airline hasn’t said when it will launch the service. It is, however, expected sometime in the next few months.
As reported in a separate story, Rack said that it has also now reached the 275-installation milestone for Jet ConneX. “This is a fantastic achievement in just 18 months,” he said. “Combine that with the 250 GX installs on the commercial airline side and it is phenomenal, underscoring the demand for broadband in the sky.”
Sweet said there was also a robust roadmap in place to increase the speeds of GX/JX through the Honeywell JetWave hardware and iDirect modem. A fifth I-5 GX satellite launch is also planned for launch next year
There are also a series of launches of hybrid joint Ka- and L-band I-6 satellites planned for 2020/2021 onwards.
“We’ve spent $1.6bn on satellites so far and now we are just starting to layer on capacity,” Rack said. “The fifth GX satellite will allow us to add more Ka-band capacity over busy hubs as required.”
Sweet said that its SwiftBroadband (SB) customers are not being left behind either, witnessed by the planned I-6 satellites.
“L-band is not being left behind and we recently announced the launch of SwiftBroadband-Safety,” Sweet said. “The amount of attention GX, JX and EAN are getting might make people wonder if we are leaving SB behind, but that is not the case.
“There is a lot of investment and planning going into SB, and it is evolving to make sure it remains relevant and valuable,” he said.