Satcom Direct enters in-flight datalink market

 - September 26, 2007, 11:59 AM

The company that has given satcom service providers the most competition in the phone and Internet arena will now compete in the market for airborne flight-information services, too.  

Satcom Direct, a reseller of satellite voice and data services, last month launched FlightDeck Freedom, a suite of datalink services that lets business jet crews use existing data communications links to receive content from their preferred providers.
The company has struck deals with Universal Weather & Aviation, Air Routing and Skyplan to provide en route weather, flight planning, text messaging and other data services to the cockpits of customer airplanes.

The business model is a break with those preferred by the established competition in the market, Arinc Direct and Honeywell Global Data Center, which require customers to use their content suites. FlightDeck Freedom will be the first service for business aviation to use the SITA network, a competitor of Arinc’s air-to-ground network. It also opens the floodgates to a variety of competing content providers since Satcom Direct is inviting additional partners to join the FlightDeck Freedom network.

Onboard data communications systems supported by FlightDeck Freedom include VHF acars, satellite acars over Inmarsat data-2 or Iridium and electronic flight bag (EFB) communications over Iridium.

Compatible hardware will include Honeywell AFIS, Rockwell Collins CMU-4000, Teledyne Controls Telelink, Universal Weather Unilink and Air Cell’s data interface unit. Satcom Direct plans to add compatiblility with Honeywell’s Primus Epic avionics system by the end of the year.

Satcom Direct will offer bundled service packages that include satellite voice and data, security, handling, weather and fueling on a single bill. Pricing information has yet to be released, but the company promised there won’t be any hidden charges for the content, for accessing other regions or networks or, perhaps most important, for transmitting data via the Inmarsat or Iridium satellite networks.  

“We wanted to give customers a choice of content provider so that they aren’t always stuck with data that’s offered by their service provider,” said Howard Lewis, Satcom Direct marketing manager. Although the company is dwarfed in size by Arinc and Honeywell, there’s reason to think it will be able to succeed in the market since it has thousands of business jet clients who use its Global One Number and Aero X services for satcom calling and data. Lewis said, “[Our customers] trust us to provide them with solutions that make sense, and that’s the case with FlightDeck Freedom.”
Satcom Direct is developing software applications for EFBs that the company said will simplify access to FlightDeck Freedom content.

Content providers say they are excited about the chance to compete more effectively in the airborne support services market.  

Satcom Direct formalized its agreements with Universal Weather, Air Routing and Skyplan at the NBAA Convention last month. It has been beta testing the service with a select group of users.