A recent trip from Amsterdam to Boston and back gave me the opportunity to test the Gogo Ku-band inflight connectivity offering on a Delta A330-300.
I was told the aircraft wasn’t equipped with Gogo’s 2Ku system, with the ThinKom flat dual antenna, but with the older first-generation Gogo Ku-band system.
Nevertheless, it provided an excellent and reliable inflight connectivity service throughout the flight with data tests showing download speeds of between 2.5 and 7 Mbps. While speed tests are often frowned upon as they can give false results this did back up my experience, which was of a solid internet connection with no pauses, stutters or buffering, even on video.
The inflight connectivity pricing was $6.95 for an hour, $18.95 for a three-hour pass or $21.95 for the full flight. There was also an option for a monthly Delta subscription plan for $69.95.
I was also drawn to a feature in Delta’s “Sky” inflight magazine entitled “Groundbreaking app helps Delta pilots avoid turbulence”.
It said that according to NASA’s Weather Accident Prevention Project, turbulence costs airlines approximately $100 million every year. It also “makes customers and crews uncomfortable, and in rare cases, can even cause a few bumps and bruises on board”.
But apparently the Gogo Ku-band inflight connectivity connection helps Delta’s Flight Weather Viewer app provide pilots with real-time graphics of turbulence observations and forecasts on the flight deck.
“Delta was able to take advantage of a convergence of affordable technology (e.g. the tablet, much improved weather data and aircraft connectivity) to develop an innovative way for delivering weather to the flight deck,” said Captain Steve Dickson, Senior Vice President – Flight Operations. “This approach allows our crews to make informed decisions for a safer flight, more efficient operation and better passenger experience.”
The feature said the system uses special algorithms, developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), from existing avionics sensors installed on more than 300 aircraft in the airline’s fleet, to combine vertical accelerometer data with atmospheric state data, which includes factors such as pitch, roll and wind speed to generate turbulence reports.
These reports are fed back into forecast models, also developed by NCAR, and made available to the app in real time.
Pilots can set threat index alerts along their route, which trigger audible and visual notifications signalling when an area of turbulence lies ahead, when the seat belt sign should be turned on and when the cabin needs to be secured.
This seemed to work well as we had a number of turbulence warnings during the flight BEFORE we actually experienced them.
It said in phase two of the app project, developers expect to add detection for several other types of weather disturbances, such as lightning, hail and even volcanic ash.
I e-mailed Delta’s press office for more up-to-date information, but none was forthcoming. Nevertheless this is a good example of how inflight connectivity is enabling more “connected aircraft” applications.