Arinc bringing SkyLink service to more aircraft

 - September 21, 2006, 5:55 AM

Look for Arinc’s SkyLink high-speed-data satcom service to start showing up in a wider range of airplane types now that an exclusive agreement with Gulfstream is expiring. The company is said to be close to finalizing deals in the works with a number of OEMs and independent service centers, with the first three announced last month.

Now offered solely in the largest Gulfstream jets, the SkyLink satellite service could soon find willing buyers among customers taking delivery of new Dassault Falcons and Cessna Citation Xs. The Annapolis, Md. company is holding discussions with the manufacturers and has already installed SkyLink hardware in a Citation X for airborne testing.

Representing a potentially much bigger market, SkyLink formalized aftermarket distribution agreements with Landmark Aviation, Duncan Aviation and Jet Aviation last month, and deals with two other major service outfits are said to be in the pipeline. Bob Thompson, senior director of satellite services for Arinc, said the retrofit market will eventually eclipse sales to buyers of new airplanes. He noted that the company is working to develop smaller SkyLink satcom antennas that would fit atop midsize and perhaps even some smaller business jets.

SkyLink provides users with high-speed Ku-band data connectivity aloft, giving passengers and crew access to “data-intensive” applications including high-speed Internet, e-mail, virtual private networks and corporate Intranets, as well a newly announced capability for voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) telephone calling.

The SkyLink coverage area currently encompasses all of the U.S. and parts of Mexico and Canada as well as Europe. The European satellite also allows access to high-speed data in North Africa, to the western edge of Russia and over a portion of Turkey. Arinc plans to expand the service later this year to the North Atlantic and early next to the North Pacific, Japan, the Philippines and parts of Australia.

Adding to the SkyLink coverage footprint requires agreements with Ku satellite operators. Thompson said the proposed service boundaries announced so far likely represent the limit of the coverage area. He noted that once the network is fully up and running, the majority of major flight routes business airplanes frequent will have been covered.

About 20 Gulfstreams of various models are flying with SkyLink equipment today, providing connection download speeds in the neighborhood of 128 to 256 kbps through Gulfstream’s proprietary Broad Band Multi Link (BBML) hardware system. Gulfstream said BBML equipment runs about $650,000 installed.

Offered in the Gulfstream G550, G450 and G350, the optional onboard equipment includes a dish antenna mounted under the tail radome, an antenna control unit, a combined LAN switching unit/transceiver router and a Gulfstream-exclusive cabin server located under the cabin floor. Operators of in-service GIVs, GIV-SPs, G300s,  G400s, GVs and G500s can also opt to have the BBML hardware installed, a Gulfstream spokesman said.

Arinc faces stiff competition in the form of Inmarsat’s Swift64 and SwiftBroadband satcom links, which provide download speeds of 64- and 432-kbps per channel, respectively. Rockwell Collins and Connexion by Boeing have also teamed to offer a data service of their own for business airplanes, which so far is being offered only to buyers of Bombardier’s Global line of jets. The Connexion service for eXchange covers a footprint similar to SkyLink’s, while Inmarsat’s Swift service is available worldwide (except at the poles), giving buyers a backup if they’re flying outside the Connexion or SkyLink coverage zones. Thompson said the Arinc hardware can automatically switch between SkyLink and the Inmarsat service.

Bombardier and Gulfstream are offering customers monthly plans that provide a set number of minutes for a flat fee. The eXchange service costs $3,000 a month for 600 minutes of connection time; $4,000 for 1,200 minutes; and $5,900 for 2,400 minutes. Slightly more expensive but still quite close, Gulfstream’s BBML service is $3,500 a month for 600 minutes; $4,500 for 1,200 minutes; and $6,000 for 2,400 minutes. Additional eXchange minutes can be purchased for $7 a minute under the lowest-tier plan, while the BBML first-level service offers extra minutes for $6 each.