Cockpit and cabin avionics

Aviation International News » March 2004
March 28, 2007, 11:32 AM

Word that operators of nearly 600 U.S.-registered business jets failed to comply with an FAA mandate calling for installation of emergency locator transmitters (ELT) by January 1 this year could not have sat well with FAA officials in Washington.

Handed down by Congress more than three years ago, the order was developed in response to the Christmas Eve 1996 crash of a Learjet 35A in southern New Hampshire, the wreckage from which remained missing for more than three years despite a search-and-rescue effort that turned out to be the biggest in state history.

After managing to convince Congress to accept a two-year extension to an original deadline of Jan. 1, 2002, to give operators time to install new 406-MHz emergency locator transmitters instead of 121.5-MHz units, the FAA had every reason to expect that the vast majority would purchase and install the equipment on time. Yet for reasons that are still not entirely clear, many missed the new deadline.

By the time operators got serious about installing ELTs, manufacturers were being swamped with orders. The predictable result was that hundreds of airplanes were grounded at midnight on New Year’s Eve because they did not carry the required equipment. There was word throughout January and February that the enforcement branch at FAA headquarters had ordered inspectors to step up ramp checks of business aircraft to make sure all were flying with ELTs. According to industry scuttlebutt, as many as 500 airplanes that were inspected in the first weeks of the new year were found to be lacking the required emergency beacons.

An FAA spokeswoman said no ramp checks had been specifically ordered by the enforcement branch, but she added that it is possible local inspectors performed more ramp checks than usual at the start of the year. In any case, the FAA has not granted any temporary exemptions to operators, arguing that its hands are tied because the rule was ordered by Congress and an extension to the deadline has already come and gone.

This left many chief pilots and flight department managers in the unenviable position of having to explain why the company airplane was grounded or–as some may have done–feigning ignorance and flying anyway.

“Basically people waited until the last minute,” said Blake Hogge, director of avionics sales with Midcoast Aviation in St. Louis. “They were not keeping track of the mandates and they got caught with their pants down to be quite blunt about it.”
One pilot said that an operator at his home field used Velcro to strap down an ELT taken from a piston single as a temporary–and probably illegal–way to keep flying.

While that approach might work for a simple ELT installation, when it comes to more complex FAA mandates, such as those for domestic reduced vertical separation minimums (DRVSM) and terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS), operators had better start thinking about upgrading now. Waiting until the 11th hour to pick up the telephone and call the local service center could be too late.

The DRVSM Hurdle

With less than a year to go before the start of DRVSM in U.S. airspace, time is most definitely running out for operators who have not yet scheduled the upgrades needed for compliance. NBAA is concerned enough about a lack of activity in the months leading to the start of DRVSM that it has issued a special notice to members urging them to take “immediate action” to start the approval process.

The FAA estimates that only half of U.S.-registered business jets are DRVSM- compliant, meaning that about 4,200 airplanes still need to undergo upgrades
and modification to fly in the restricted-access airspace after next January 20. The go, no-go decision for DRVSM implementation is predicated on 85 percent of flight operations being DRVSM-qualified by that date. According to the FAA’s latest figures, somewhere between 87 and 91 percent of the operations between FL290 and FL410 will be flown by DRVSM-approved airplanes by this time next year. This means that even if no more business jets are approved for DRVSM between now and the compliance deadline the FAA will still go ahead with implementation. That should be a sobering thought for anyone counting on an extension to the deadline.

NBAA pointed out that only about 16 percent of the operations in the upper flight levels are made by business aircraft. Because DRVSM is estimated to save major airlines about $5.3 billion in fuel costs over the next decade, there is no reason to expect that the FAA will delay implementation, said Bob Lamond, manager of air traffic services for NBAA. “If you haven’t started taking a hard look at DRVSM by now, you are seriously behind the power curve,” he warned.

Innovative Solutions & Support, a manufacturer of low-cost RVSM avionics based in Exton, Pa., recently commissioned Frost & Sullivan to perform an independent review of the North American RVSM market. The survey supports the FAA’s numbers, finding that 4,000 to 6,000 business jets do not yet comply with the RVSM mandate. But of these, only 2,400 are expected to be upgraded to RVSM standards between now and next January 20, according to the analysis. Many of the remaining airplanes presumably would be upgraded after the start of DRVSM, meaning these operators are counting on being able to transition through DRVSM airspace and fly on top or stay below the airspace and sacrifice fuel economy and range.

IS&S was recently the beneficiary of a $4 million order by Bombardier for air-data displays and analog interface units developed for RVSM upgrades in Learjet 31s, 35/36s and 55s. The company has started deliveries of the equipment to Bombardier, and the first modifications are expected to be completed soon.

Gulfstream two years ago ordered almost $1 million worth of avionics from IS&S for Gulfstream II/IIBs. Considering that the avionics maker has also obtained STCs for its RVSM air-data display units in the Challenger 600, Hawker 700, Sabre 60 and 65, JetStar, King Air 200 and 350 and Piaggio Avanti, and that its low-cost systems offer an alternative to more expensive options, the letters IS&S for many have become synonymous with RVSM.

Need Help Getting RVSM Work Done?

Cessna Aircraft lays claim to completing more RVSM upgrades than any other manufacturer. About half of the Citation business jet fleet has been modified to comply with RVSM, according to Cessna. The Wichita OEM delivered its 4,000th Citation last year, and early last month it reported that Cessna service centers had completed RVSM upgrades in 1,970 Citations.

Numerous service centers are authorized to perform RVSM modifications for a variety of business jets and turboprops, and although shop schedules are filling up fast there is still room to accommodate operators who need upgrades. Not to bore readers with a seemingly endless list of RVSM upgrade options, the following is a look at what major shops have been up to and how they are helping the industry meet the deadline for DRVSM compliance.

Southern Star Avionics, a partnership of Mobile, Ala.-based Star Aviation and Southern Avionics, announced recently that it has received RVSM group certification for the Citation 500/550 and SP series and expects group approval shortly for the 560/S550. The “turnkey” installation kit offered by Southern Star includes two IS&S digital altimeters with integrated air-data computers and an analog interface unit. The kit, priced between $89,000 and $95,000, is available for both single and dual flight director aircraft with the Sperry SPZ-500 autopilot. Columbia Avionics of Columbia, Mo., has also obtained STCs for the installation of IS&S air-data systems in the Citation 500, 550 and 560 series and is offering group RVSM approval.

Duncan Aviation late last year received group certification for RVSM in the Challenger 600-1A11 using IS&S components. Duncan also offers RVSM upgrades for the Astra/SP, Falcon 10 and 50, Gulfstream II, Hawker 700A, Learjet 31 and Westwind 1124 and 1124A. In addition, Duncan can complete RVSM Service Bulletins for the Citation 500 series, 550, 560 and 650; Falcon 20, 200 and 900; Hawker 800/XP and 1000; and the Learjet 31A, 35, 35A, 55 and 60.

Elliott Aviation of Moline, Ill., uses the Honeywell AZ-252 air-data computer for RVSM modifications of MU-300 Diamonds and Beechjet 400s. The company’s list of RVSM upgrade programs includes the Beechjet 400A, Hawker 800XP, Hawker 700A, Hawker 400/600, Citation 550/560, Falcon 10 and late-model King Air B200s and 350s.

Garrett Aviation Services has an RVSM package for Falcon 10s and 100s equipped with either the Collins APS-80 or AP-105. The Collins RVSM compliance package for Falcon 10s with the Collins APS-80 autopilot includes dual ADC-87A air-data computers, ALI-80A altimeter, two-inch standby 50,000-foot back-lighted altimeter and Rosemount dual temp probe. Garrett also offers RVSM installations in the Gulfstream II/IIB, Citation 500 series, Falcon 20 and Falcon 50.

Jet Source, based at McClellan-Palomar Airport north of San Diego, meanwhile, performs RVSM upgrades for the Beechjet 400A, Hawker 800/1000, King Air B200/300, Challenger 600 series, Falcon 20 and 50 and Gulfstream III.

Jet Aviation in West Palm Beach, Fla., recently finished installing its fifth RVSM-compliance package in a Falcon 10 and said it anticipates “many more” installations in Falcon 10s as the compliance due date draws near. The company’s Bedford, Mass. facility earlier performed an RVSM upgrade on a Beechjet 400, and Jet Aviation Dallas, an authorized Citation service center, not long ago completed RVSM installations in a Citation 525, a Citation 501 and two Citation 560s.

At Midcoast Avionics, technicians spent the end of last year installing RVSM equipment in six Hawker 700s in an effort that led to group certification for the type on December 26. Midcoast worked with Rockwell Collins to come up with the equipment solution and also with Kohlman Systems Research for flight-test data and operator approval support. Midcoast’s group certification STC applies to Hawker 700A/Bs equipped with Collins Pro Line II avionics. The RVSM package costs between $150,000 and $240,000, depending on when operators reserve their spots and the level of modification needed. Installation takes one to four weeks.

Greenville, S.C.-based Stevens Aviation has teamed with Shadin and Aeromech to develop an RVSM upgrade package for the Beechjet 400 and MU-300 Diamond that includes the Shadin ADC-6000 dual air-data computer, copilot’s altimeter replacement, static plumbing, fittings, wiring, switches and other materials needed to support the installation.

Thunder Aviation and Honeywell have teamed to obtain certification of RVSM capability on the Falcon 10 and 20. Total cost of the upgrade is set at $165,000 and will require about two weeks to complete. STC of the required hardware installation is expected by mid-December this year, with RVSM certification of the Falcon 20 system to follow within two weeks. Thunder Aviation estimates a market for more than 300 Falcon 10s and 20s.

Thunder plans first to obtain certification for Falcon 20s equipped with the APS 105 and SPZ-500 autopilots. Falcon 20s with other autopilots will be RVSM certified “if sufficient operator interest” materializes. The Falcon 20 certification program is under way and Falcon 10 RVSM certification will start this month, again using the group STC approach. APS 105-equipped aircraft will use Honeywell AM-250
digital altimeters and SPZ-500-equipped aircraft will require a Honeywell AZ-252 air-data computer. In addition to the STC’d altimeter systems, the older Falcon will be modified with Rosemount pitot-static systems.

West Star Aviation in Grand Junction, Colo., has announced a program to amend its RVSM STC– originally awarded last August–to include Learjet 35As and 36As with the FC-530 autopilot, 35s and 36s with the FC-200 autopilot and Mark IV wings, 35As and 36As with the FC-200 autopilot and non-Softflite Century III wings and 31 models with the FC-531 autopilot. (The current STC applies to Learjet 35, 35A, 36, and 36A models equipped with the FC-200 autopilot and Century III Softflite wings.)

The avionics package for all aircraft in the amended STCs will be essentially the same as the Honeywell equipment used in the original STC, according to West Star. But on aircraft equipped with the FC-530 and FC-531 autopilots the existing altitude pre-select and Rosemount pitot-static probes will be incorporated into the RVSM installation, whereas in the original STC a new digital altitude alerter and two Rosemount pitot-static probes must be installed on aircraft equipped with the FC-200 autopilot.

West Star estimates the amended STCs will allow about 70 to 80 additional 30-series Learjets to meet the RVSM mandate. According to Greg Laabs, West Star vice president of operations, the company’s decision to seek the amended STCs was a response to customer requests.

“Currently there are no RVSM solutions on the market for Learjet 35As and 36As with Mark IV and non-Softflite Century III wings,” said Laabs. “West Star’s amended STC will allow our customers operating these aircraft to become RVSM compliant without undergoing costly wing modifications or one-off STC certification.” Aircraft in the test group recently underwent equipment installation, and test flights have begun. West Star expects the FAA to award the STC amendments this summer.

Avcon Industries, the Butler National subsidiary that has been seeking Learjet 20-series RVSM approval for some time now, announced last month that Kalitta Charters, based at Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti, Mich., has selected it to provide a turnkey RVSM solution for its fleet of a dozen 20-series Learjets. Kalitta has scheduled retrofit slots to complete airplane fleet compliance by this December.

Avcon president Larry Franke said his company is offering a “price break” of $156,975 for commitments it receives now, adding that he expects the price to increase as the compliance deadline approaches.

Avcon’s RVSM package for the Learjet 20 series typically requires 10 to 14 days downtime for structural and electrical modifications, he added. The installation features two IS&S RVSM altimeters and a third, redundant standby altimeter system. Avcon also installs an autopilot interface unit and Rosemount pitot/static probes. L-3 Communications (formerly JET) must also perform an inspection and overhaul of the airplane’s original FC-110 autopilot.

And Don’t Forget TAWS

Another major compliance deadline that should be circled on every chief pilot’s calendar is the one calling for installation of terrain awareness and warning systems (TAWS). The rule requiring installation of TAWS devices applies to U.S.-registered turbine-powered airplanes with six or more passenger seats. Here’s how it breaks down: Part 91 airplanes with between six and nine passenger seats can be operated with a class-B system, which is required to include only aural caution and warning messages. Part 91 airplanes with 10 or more passenger seats and all Part 135 and 121 airplanes must be equipped with more expensive class-A TAWS, which includes both aural and visual cues. The TAWS rule went into effect on March 29, 2002, for new airplanes and is scheduled to take effect on March 29 next year for in-service airplanes.

Honeywell, maker of the enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS), by far sells the lion’s share of TAWS products. The company is appealing a ruling by a federal judge who threw out a patent-infringement lawsuit against competing manufacturers and continues to market its full line of terrain-alerting devices, from systems designed for the air-transport market and large business jets down to piston airplanes and helicopters.

Challenging Honeywell’s EGPWS are Avionics, Communications and Surveillance Systems (ACSS), the joint venture formed by France’s Thales Avionics and L-3 of the U.S. after L-3 acquired Honeywell’s traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS 2000) business; Universal Avionics; L-3 Avionics Systems (formerly the avionics division of Goodrich); and Sandel Avionics, which sells the ST3400 TAWS/ RMI, a three-inch cockpit display that slides into the spot in the panel normally occupied by a stand-alone RMI. Garmin and Chelton Flight Systems, meanwhile, have TAWS products of their own, which are part of the companies’ integrated glass cockpits.

Honeywell recently certified an optional software upgrade to EGPWS that is intended to curb runway incursions and improve airport safety. Called the runway awareness and advisory system (RAAS), the software-only modif

Developed by Honeywell’s Flight Safety Avionics division in Redmond, Wash., the advisory system carries a price of about $17,000 per airplane. RAAS is designed to fill a gap until the introduction of future ATC services and avionics capable of providing datalink position of all aircraft and vehicles on the airport on cockpit and head-up displays. The Honeywell system does not keep track of other aircraft nor does it issue a warning if the pilot tries to take off from the wrong runway. Instead, RAAS provides clues to the pilot that something may be amiss. RAAS has been selected to fly aboard most new Citations, and maintenance providers are reporting high interest in the software upgrade The initial RAAS certification was performed by Duncan Aviation in a Gulfstream IV.

Primus Epic Arrives

The Primus Epic avionics system from Honeywell notched its first certification last summer, aboard Gulfstream’s ultra-long-range G550. The approval was followed late last year by type certification of the Dassault 900EX with the Primus Epic EASy cockpit. Together, these avionics systems represent the current pinnacle of achievement in the industry, combing the large glass displays with powerful computer processors and cursor-control devices–all wrapped around a Windows-like operating environment.

Primus Epic will be the standard for all new top-of-the-line Gulfstreams and Falcons for the predictable future as both airframe manufacturers seek to apply a common avionics architecture to multiple airplane types. The system reduces avionics box count by incorporating the fault-warning computer, data acquisition unit, air-data computer, GPS, EGPWS and other electronic systems in modular avionics units. Rather than replacing an entire black box after a system fails, maintenance personnel can now simply swap out a printed-circuit card.

Developed jointly by Dassault and Honeywell, EASy evolved from Primus Epic, but from a design philosophy standpoint it is quite different from Gulfstream’s Primus Epic-based PlaneView cockpit. As is the case with PlaneView, the heart of EASy is the design’s modular avionics units, large-format flight displays and trackball CCDs. Yet everything in the EASy cockpit is designed toward the center, with a heavier reliance on the cursor controls than in the Gulfstreams. The thinking behind Dassault’s philosophy is that this keeps both pilots’ eyes focused on the middle of the flight deck, where each can monitor what the other is doing.

The T layout of the flight displays is another EASy innovation. When Dassault started designing the flight deck, it originally wanted to put all four screens in a line across the panel, reasoning that this would allow the pilots to keep their heads up, looking forward. But this was somewhat in conflict with a desire to stop making left- and right-side cockpits. Thus the T layout (with one screen in front of each pilot and two multifunction displays down the center) began to evolve.

Short-term information is displayed on the two primary display units (PDUs) in front of each pilot, whereas longer-term information, such as the navigation and system synoptic views, is displayed on the central screens. Each display is divided into windows, which can be either one-third or two-thirds the size of the display, unless a full-screen view of a particular window is selected.

EASy interfaces are located on the overhead panel, glareshield, yoke and between the pilots on the center pedestal. The CCD features a large handgrip with buttons on each side and the trackball facing forward. A knob next to the CCD can be used to scroll through various menus or tune radios.

The cursor itself can be moved from one screen to another using the trackball or a button on the CCD. When moving the cursor from screen to screen, the edges of the display on which it is resting turn blue. To help the pilots keep track of the cursors, they are briefly highlighted each time they are moved. Both pilots have their own cursor, but only one can work in a given window at a time.

In Gulfstream’s PlaneView system, pilots can use the CCDs or the guidance controls of the glare-shield. As is the case with EASy, PlaneView consists of four 14-inch displays (which replace the six CRTs in the GV), but they are arranged in a straight line across the panel.

Unique to the G550 is the Gulfstream-designed sidewall-mounted CCD, which allows either pilot to manipulate an array of functions and display menus at the click of a button. Similar to a computer mouse or track ball, the cursor controls are a convenience that pilots can choose to use or not. For most functions, crews will be comfortable entering data the old-fashioned way–on the glareshield display control panel and through the FMS. But for more complex handling of moving maps and systems functions on PlaneView’s Honeywell i-nav (interactive navigation) displays, the cursor controls come in handy.

Pilots can resize many of the windows on the cockpit displays for a customized look, choosing, for example, to keep the ADI at two-thirds size or expand it to span the entire PFD. For added redundancy, the avionics feature three Laseref V inertial reference systems, a pair of 24-channel GPS receivers, three navcoms and three complete air-data systems. The modular avionics units housed in the radio rack consist of circuit-card assemblies with processor cards to host an array of functions, such as FMS, symbol generation, HUD, radios and so on. In many cases, all these functions are occurring simultaneously in a single box, said Mike Mena, Gulfstream G550 program manager.

Standard equipment on the G550 also includes a Honeywell/BAE visual guidance system (VGS) and enhanced vision system (EVS), still the only such device certified in civil airplanes for use with a HUD. The two are linked to provide an actual view of the world on the VGS in high-resolution raster format, allowing pilots to see the airport through fog or haze and at night. To date, Gulfstream has equipped 60 airplanes with EVS.

The FAA recently adopted a final rule allowing the use of HUD-based enhanced vision systems for descent below published instrument approach minimums. The rule change lets pilots continue straight-in Category I and nonprecision approaches below decision height or minimum descent altitude to 100 feet above touchdown zone elevation, where they would need to be able to see the runway or approach lights unaided to be legal to land.

Essentially, the rule says that if the pilot can see the runway environment at published minimums by using the infrared EVS image, the approach can be continued to a height of 100 feet, after which “natural vision” must be used for landing. Pilots can rely on EVS during Cat I ILS approaches, as well as straight-in nonprecision approaches.

The ruling applies only to aircraft fitted with EVS and a head-up display, meaning that head-down systems, such as those being produced by Max-Viz of Portland, Ore., are not eligible. Canada’s CMC Electronics and France’s Thales are currently testing an EVS package for Bombardier’s Global Express, and Rockwell Collins Flight Dynamics has been selected by Boeing as the EVS integrator for the BBJ.

Rockwell Collins Cockpit File Server Key to Emerging Technology
The Pro Line 21 integrated avionics system from Rockwell Collins is fast becoming known to pilots of the latest business jets, such as the Challenger 300 and Citation CJ1/CJ2, as well as new turboprops now that Raytheon has brought the suite to the King Air B200 and 350 lines. A key element of the evolution of Pro Line in the years ahead will be the inclusion of a recently certified cockpit file server, the brains behind a host of advanced features, according to Collins.

Dave Woo, director of flight deck systems for the Cedar Rapids, Iowa avionics maker, said the file server enables an array of added functionality that Collins has in mind for Pro Line 21, perhaps the most notable being the introduction of electronic charts, graphical weather and enhanced moving maps.

Collins obtained initial certification for the file server, as well as associated functionality referred to by the manufacturer as the integrated flight information system (IFIS), aboard the company’s Challenger 601 last year. Collins has been testing a dual-file server setup in the 601 since November that will allow operators to migrate to a completely paperless cockpit, doing away with paper charts in favor of Jeppesen e-charts displayed on the MFD.

“We need to have six months of operational trials to be able to go paperless,” said Woo, “and so we’ve got until May or June before the FAA can give us the initial approval.”

The installation, he added, would be considered a class 3 electronic flight bag (EFB), meaning it would be approved to show an airplane symbol on the charts and would integrate with the FMS. The benefits to the pilots include reduced workload since the e-charts are pulled up automatically through the FMS; and a less cluttered workspace than provided to users of handheld EFBs, which some pilots complain get in the way and can be difficult to retrieve and stow.

The addition of e-charts wasn’t the only news from Collins recently. Late last year all new Beech King Air 350s and B200s started being equipped at the factory with Pro Line 21 in a configuration that is nearly identical to the cockpit in the entry-level Premier I twinjet. The standard Pro Line 21 configuration for the turboprops includes two 8- by 10-inch primary flight displays and a like-size multifunction display in the center of the panel, as well as Pro Line 21 CNS radios and sensors; FMS-3000 flight management system; GPS receiver; solid-state AHRS; dual digital air-data computers; a maintenance diagnostic system; dual mode-S transponders; turbulence detection weather radar; radio altimeter; fail-passive autopilot; and dual flight director. And in spite of all the electronics included in the Pro Line 21 package, the all-digital system is actually several hundred pounds lighter than the current factory-standard avionics and flight systems, said Woo.

For the retrofit market, Collins has introduced IDS-3000, an integrated display retrofit package that includes active-matrix LCDs, sensors and software, but not the high price of a complete Pro Line 21 Continuum cockpit upgrade. Continuum is a roughly $2 million retrofit that essentially gives buyers a new avionics suite and autopilot. For operators who want to upgrade only to modern glass displays, IDS-3000 is a better choice, said Collins.

The initial market for the display retrofit is Pro Line II airplanes equipped with Collins APS-85 autopilots. The launch application for IDS-3000 is in the Citation 500 series through an agreement with Garrett Aviation. Additional certifications of IDS-3000 will occur later this year in the Hawker 800, Falcon 50 and Falcon 20, with Astras and the Learjet 55 possibly to follow.

Benefits of IDS-3000 are lower cost of ownership, fast installation and the ability to upgrade to new capabilities, such as the electronic charts, weather and enhanced moving maps, by installing a cockpit file server. Bruce Thigpen, director of business and regional systems marketing for Collins, explained that IDS-3000 is an incremental upgrade concept where an operator can install modern glass but keep the old autopilot.

“With all the regulatory issues that are upcoming, this type of system is an ideal upgrade platform,” Thigpen said. “You can upgrade the flight deck without the extreme expense of going through the certification effort that a new autopilot would require.”

Thales Unveils Top Deck

Thales Avionics reports that it is in the final development phase of a new avionics suite called Top Deck, which is intended to serve regional-airliner and large-business-jet markets. Consisting of four 13.6-in. LCD screens in a T layout, the Thales suite is similar in appearance to the Dassault/Honeywell EASy suite. On the left- and right-hand sides of Top Deck are the PFDs. Engine and system data is displayed on the top-center screen and the lower-center navigation screen contains a moving map, airport charts and other data.

A conscious effort by Thales to increase situational awareness means there are fewer buttons and switches located in overhead or head-down positions. For example, the pilot can choose to have weather radar, collision avoidance and system data displayed on the PFD, in addition to controller-pilot datalink messages and nav information, among other information.

The FMS used on Top Deck was first developed as a retrofit into Lockheed Martin C-130 military transports. It was then improved for the AgustaWestland A109 helicopter. With Top Deck, Thales engineers made it interactive by integrating it with a trackball-style CCD, inspired by the device Thales has been designing for the 550-seat Airbus A380.

Thales and Bombardier reportedly met last month to talk about the possibility of bringing Top Deck to one of the Canadian manufacturer’s future programs.

Transforming the Cabin into an Airborne Workspace.

The hot news in cabin avionics these days is in-flight Internet, and the pioneer in that blossoming industry so far has been Inmarsat. Its Swift64 service can deliver in-flight Internet connection speeds as high as 64 kbps for single-channel systems or 128 kbps when two channels are bonded together (and even faster using data-compression techniques). While perhaps not as fast an option as most executives are used to in their offices, Swift64 handles typical Web surfing and e-mail transfers with little trouble. The next generation of satellites, called I4 and scheduled to begin operating next year, will deliver connection speeds of about 432 kbps.

Prices for data satcom receivers, antennas, routers and file servers vary depending on the type of installation. Typically, the cost of entry starts at about $150,000 for an onboard data terminal and rises by a few hundred thousand dollars after adding associated equipment such as an antenna, satcom transceiver, network file server, router, wireless hub, data ports and so on. Airtime charges also vary depending on the service provider, but in general Web surfing runs about $10 a minute, compared with the $7 per minute it costs to make an Aero-H satcom call.

Depending on what equipment already exists aboard the aircraft and the level of complexity required, it may be possible to get by with a relatively simple installation that uses a router but not a file server. A server is not necessarily required to set up an on-aircraft network because a router by itself can serve as a makeshift functional network. The addition of an onboard file server, however, adds flexibility such as for file and print exchange and wireless connectivity (see box on this page) that may be desirable for some passengers.

In most cases corporate networks can be accessed over a virtual private network directly through an IT dial-in connection. Aboard the aircraft, passengers connect their laptops to the Ethernet connection, which signals the router to connect to the corporate servers. The procedure is identical to the one the CEO would follow while working on his laptop from his hotel room.

Teledyne Controls and EMS Technologies have introduced optional acceleration equipment designed to boost the overall performance of the satellite datalink. The HSD-128 high-speed data terminal from EMS Technologies can be installed alongside an existing multi-channel voice satcom or it can operate as the aircraft’s sole satcom by using its Aero mini-M circuits for voice calls. Compatible with any Arinc 741 Aero-H/H+ antenna, the HSD-128 is capable of providing uncompressed data rates of as high as 128 kbps.

The addition of an optional data accelerator, called the cabin network Xcelerator (CNX), can boost throughput by up to 400 percent, according to the manufacturer. By using data-compression techniques and so-called bit-level caching in conjunction with a ground-based network accelerator, the CNX concept can speed corporate data traffic by compressing and optimizing it for faster loading on board the aircraft.

EMS technologies also recently introduced the HSD-X, an expander module that adds another channel to the two-channel HSD-128 system. Two expander modules can be added to the HSD-128, the company said, for a maximum of four 64-kbps channels reaching 256 kbps of total throughput.

Since production of the $130,000 HSD-128 began in 2001, EMS Technologies has built more than 200 systems, most of them serving aboard bizliners, large-cabin business jets and even helicopters.

Honeywell and Thales Avionics will soon begin offering the new HS-702 highspeed data communications system, which supports voice, fax and up to 128-kbps data connections. According to Honeywell, the companies plan to start delivering the HS-702 this quarter.

Adding the HS-700/702 to a Honeywell/Thales MCS-4000 or MCS-7000 satcom system gives buyers the option of operating two independent data channels at 64 kbps or linking both channels for data rates of up to 128 kbps. When used in conjunction with the seven-channel MCS-7000 satcom system, the HS-700/702 will provide access to nine channels to support communications, including telephone, fax, Web browsing, e-mail and videoconferencing.

Honeywell and Thales in 2002 introduced their first high-speed data terminal, the HS-600. Capable of two-way connections at speeds of 64 kbps, the terminal can be integrated with any Honeywell/ Thales satcom system, a family that spans the MCS-3000, -4000, -6000 and -7000.

Customers who purchase the HS-600 or HS-700 data systems can also opt for the NSU-4 network server. The pros of working in a network server environment on board an airplane are higher transfer rates, access to corporate VPNs and wireless network setups. The limitations are that decompression of data is required on the ground and links to VPNs cannot be optimized, meaning slower throughput while connected to the VPN.

Rockwell Collins recently introduced the SAT-6100, a data satcom system that will be installed as a baseline component of the integrated cabin electronics package on the Bombardier Global 5000. SAT-6100 provides multiple voice and data communication channels for the flight deck and cabin in a small and lightweight package, said the company.

Consisting of the Collins SRT-2100 receiver and two HST-2100 high-speed transceivers providing three Aero-I/H/H+ channels and two channels of Swift64 high-speed data service, the SAT-6100 system is designed to be installed completely outside the pressure vessel, thereby preserving cabin space.

A new 50-watt high-power amplifier improves system performance and allows simultaneous use of two voice channels, two high-speed data channels and one low-speed data channel for ICAO safety services. Future functionality will include Inmarsat’s I4 high-speed BGAN satellites.

At last fall’s NBAA Convention, Collins and Connexion by Boeing announced an agreement to provide broadband data connectivity for the corporate aviation market with the rollout of Collins eXchange, a rival to Inmarsat’s data service that will combine the real-time satellite communications capabilities of the Connexion by Boeing broadband network with Collins’ Airshow 21 cabin information and entertainment system architecture and hardware.

Connexion by Boeing’s pact with Collins will expand the Connexion offering to the corporate jet arena, making it possible for business aircraft passengers to receive and exchange information through geosynchronous satellites operating in the Ku-band at upload speeds reaching 5 megabytes per second. Denny Helgeson, vice president and general manager of Collins Business and Regional Systems, said Connexion by Boeing is the first service using the Ku-frequency band of the radio spectrum, the same as that used by direct-broadcast commercial television. Another entrant into the market, Arinc is developing SkyLink, also a Ku-band hardware and service offering.

Danish firm Thrane & Thrane recently introduced its first satcom, the Aero-HSD+, which integrates global voice, fax and cockpit communications and includes two high-speed Inmarsat Swift64 data channels linked together to provide a 128-kbps data rate.

Company officials said Aero-HSD+ is smaller, lighter and more compact than its competitors’ data systems. It combines the Aero-H+ and Swift64 Inmarsat services,
and is available in two versions. The four-channel configuration provides a single Swift64 channel, and the five-channel 8 MCU box features two Swift64 channels to achieve the 128-kbps data capability for ISDN, MPDS and fax. (With MPDS the user pays only for the volume of data transmitted, not for the connection time.) The Aero-H+ service provides two global voice, fax and PC modem data channels and one packet data channel for cockpit communications.

Aero-HSD+ can be upgraded to the next-generation I4 Inmarsat high-speed satellite platform by swapping LRUs, according to the company. The system is slated to become available to customers at the end of this year. List prices (excluding high-gain antennas and installation) are $175,000 for the four-channel configuration and $232,000 for the five-channel version.

Airborne TV Remains a Top Seller

In spite of some lingering reluctance on the part of operators to spend money on cabin “goodies,” interest in airborne TV, and more recently in multi-region television offerings, has been relatively healthy. Rockwell Collins, which owns cabin IFE specialist Airshow, recently introduced Tailwind 500, a multi-region airborne satellite television system designed for installation on super-midsize and larger business jets.

Slated for availability later this year, Tailwind receives signals from major Ku-Band direct-broadcast satellites or digital-video-broadcast satellites, with service available over the Middle East, Europe and the contiguous U.S. Additional services will be added in the near future, expanding Tailwind’s reach to other regions, and it is compatible with the various subscription and free-to-air TV services, said Collins.

Honeywell, meanwhile, has completed initial flight and ground testing of its AIS-2000 multi-regional airborne satellite television system in the Middle East.

During testing in a Gulfstream IV-SP, signal performance and video quality were recorded to verify coverage areas. Honeywell assessed system performance by monitoring non-subscription channels available on the Nilesat and Arabsat DBS satellites, according to the company.

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