January is always a good month to get the crystal ball out and look forward to the rest of the year. “Get Connected” recently posed some questions to Robert Vega, Director of Product Management, Satcom Direct (SD), on the state of the inflight connectivity market for business aviation users. Here are his responses.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge(s) facing the connectivity industry and/or your company in 2019?
“In connectivity, the biggest challenges for 2019 are extensions of challenges we’ve seen in the past. As connectivity options become more widespread and bandwidth becomes more available, passengers and crew are becoming more reliant on those systems and expectations are increasing.
“Whereas in years past people were happy with a few kilobits to send an email, the expectation now is that the onboard experience matches that on the ground.
“The hunger for data on the ground continues to grow and the consumer electronics world is innovating rapidly to feed that hunger. Matching that pace on the aircraft, however, is a significant challenge.
“Customers are looking for solutions with long lifespans that won’t require costly upgrades every couple of years. This thinking, while perfectly understandable from an operator’s perspective, runs counter to the rapid-fire upgrade approach seen on the ground.
“Finding the balance between developing innovative solutions to bring higher and higher speed connectivity systems to market while maintaining a level of consistency with the on-board avionics is the biggest challenge in the in-flight connectivity world today and will continue to be the biggest challenge for the foreseeable future.”
What will be the biggest opportunity?
“The biggest opportunities are in the light jet market. These aircraft have historically been in a connectivity black hole as their only options have been low speed systems that are regionally restricted.
“Advancements in flat panel and phased array technologies have not successfully penetrated the aviation market and these solutions are necessary for aircraft that can’t support a tail mounted system, but that want to have a high speed, global connectivity.
“The challenges that have held these antennas back range from thermal to power to size but the biggest issue is cost.
“Engineers will find a way to clear the technical hurdles, but they must do so in a manner that allows the solution to hit the sweet spot for the more cost sensitive customers. Improvements are continuously being made in this arena and I believe we’re getting close to having the ability to serve this market.”
What can we expect to see from you in 2019?
“Satcom Direct has been a successful player in the avionics space for years with the SDR [Satcom Direct Router] and we have expanded that portfolio over the past few years with the acquisition of Satcom Direct Avionics (formerly True North) and strategic partnerships in the antenna manufacturers such as Astronics and QEST – the latter positioning us to take advantage of the light jet opportunity described above.
“Over the course of 2019 and beyond, we expect to continue innovating internally and with our partners with a goal of streamlining the offering and simplifying things for operators and OEMs.
“Our goal is to further integrate the connectivity system with the aircraft such that the aircraft operational data and history can be maintained digitally – thus improving accuracy, reducing manual intervention, and increasing aircraft residual value – while providing the best connectivity experience for all passengers and crew.”
In what field do you think the next big developments will be?
“The next major improvements in the satcom world will revolve around improving the efficiency of the 12” antenna. Antennas are most efficient when they have a large surface area but physical real estate on business jets dictates antenna sizes.
“As a result, the best way to improve terminal performance is to find ways to increase the efficiency of the antenna aperture.
“This can result in improved performance on the aircraft but also has the added benefit of reducing the impact to the satellite operator.
“If the operator can deliver data more efficiently to the aircraft, it will support business cases to increase the amount of bandwidth they’re willing to allocate.”
Is there anything else you wish to add?
“This is an exciting time for connectivity in business aviation. Innovation is driving demand on the ground and that is extending to the aircraft.
“It has created a challenging environment where end users are expecting the same experience that they have in their home and office but it’s also creating an opportunity to finally deliver a fully connected aircraft.
“It requires coordination between the avionics, the ground segment, and the space segment, but when done correctly, it can provide an experience that will finally put aviation in the forefront of the information age.”