What do companies need to consider when choosing an inflight connectivity system for their business aircraft? At Ebace, “Get Connected’s” Steve Nichols spoke with Kevin Kliethermes of Flying Colours Corporation, based in Peterborough, Ontario, and St Louis, Missouri, to find out.
Q. What aircraft are you installing inflight connectivity equipment on?
A. Anything and everything, from a Learjet to a Bombardier Global.
Q. What do people want?
A. The first conversation usually revolves around mandatory requirements, such as fitting ADS-B equipment and NEXTGen avionics. The next question is “How do I make my internet connectivity experience in the air the same as it is on the ground?” It’s a question virtually every single customer asks.
Q. How informed are they when they contact you?
A. Sometimes they’ll have a bit of direction in terms of what they want, having completed some fundamental market research. But a lot of our conversations start with us asking them what they want to be able to do. Establishing their real need helps us better advise them.
Q. What questions do you ask?
A. We ask if they want to stream video, in which case if they have a big enough aircraft we tend to look at Ka-band solutions. If they are simply looking for the ability to do light web browsing and email activity we may look at smaller, cheaper L-band solutions.
Q. How “savvy” are buyers in terms of the technologies?
A. Some have heard of Ka-band, or have heard of Honeywell JetWave. They usually know enough to segment what type of product offering they are looking for – they recognise some of the products that are out there. Then you start to talk about the cost of running some of these systems and that can bring them back down to Earth a little bit in terms of their expectations!
Q. Are customers surprised by the pricing?
A. Some are, some aren’t. Most customers have some understanding of the value they place on inflight connectivity. For example, the value of an always-on broadband inflight connectivity system to a company shouldn’t be underestimated. But at anything from upwards of $8,000 a month for Ka-band technology another owner might just prefer to put some movies on their iPad and stay with more modest connectivity solutions.
Q. How many really want a 15/30Mbps connection?
A. Some of the extremely robust Ka-band solutions are differentiated by the aircraft. For example, Ka isn’t a good fit for a Challenger. Typically, we don’t see Ka-band chosen until you get up to a Bombardier Global-sized aircraft. We find a typical Challenger customer places a little less value on that type of capability. Also, there are only so many aircraft that can accommodate the equipment in a tail-mounted radome. You certainly wouldn’t put Ka-band on a Learjet for example. [Get Connected note: Inmarsat says JetConneX has STCs for the Challenger 604, 605, and 650].
Q. So what else do you offer?
A. There are smaller products on the market and more coming along without having to go to Ka-band. Gogo is working on a Ku-band solution that will be in direct competition with JetWave/Jet ConneX. It also has a very robust air-to-ground system for North America with Gogo AVANCE. I think the more competitors in the market the better, as it drives the cost down.
Q. Say I turn up at Flying Colours with a Cessna Citation and I fly across the Atlantic quite regularly, what would you recommend?
A. We would find out where you fly and what you want to do with it. For light web browsing and email we might recommend a Cobham Aviator 300 system with an intermediate gain antenna and Inmarsat SwiftBroadband and a lower initial investment, whereas JetWave/Jet ConneX might be a more sizable investment to recreate an office in the sky facility. If you do invest in a Ka-band solution you tend to stick with it for some time to maximise that investment. It also depends if an STC is available for the aircraft. If it isn’t it can be a costly process to obtain one. We have to see what solutions are out there for that particular aircraft.
Q. What do you do if there isn’t an STC available?
A. We have to work with our engineering and certification team to work out the cost of doing our own STC. Then you have to bounce that back to the customer, and say this is where we are, is that above your threshold? If it is, we have to look at other options.
Q. Do you do much work for European customers?
A. Yes, we do, as many of our clients want to maximise our ability to offer maintenance, interior conversions and refurbishments, paint work and avionics upgrades in one place. Slot availability, exchange rates, and other commercial factors also play a part.