Special Report: Cabin electronics 2009

 - January 29, 2009, 4:24 AM

This year manufacturers brought to market a number of electronics calculated to bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded business jet owner.

Following a successful launch and glowing reviews of its GoGo in-flight Internet service with the airlines in late summer, Aircell was at the NBAA Convention in October promoting the broadband service to the business aviation market and now says it will be available this spring.

Describing it as “must-have” technology, Aircell claims GoGo will let passengers use their own laptops and smartphones at full mobile broadband speeds, just as they do on the ground.

A preview demonstration flight late last summer suggested that was no exaggeration. It did indeed provide Internet access as rapidly as a ground-based DSL connection. Web pages such as cnn.com and foxnews.com loaded quickly, VPN (virtual private network) links worked and even live video streaming through Netflix presented no challenge to the system.

Aircell has two pricing plans for business aviation users of its broadband system, both of which provide an always-available link to the broadband network. The first, for those who seek only e-mail access using a BlackBerry or other Wi-Fi PDA, is $895 a month. Faster access, at speeds averaging around 2 Mbps, will cost $1,995 a month.

The first hardware on a customer-owned business jet has already been installed by Savannah Air Center as part of a Global completion. However, it is a version of the package originally designed for the air transport market and therefore weighs 125 pounds and required three fuselage-mounted antennas. The business aviation-specific package that goes to market this spring will link through the Broomfield, Colo.-based company’s Axxess cabin communication unit and weigh just 40 pounds. It will require two blade antennas, each mounted on the fuselage belly and measuring about seven inches long.

The total price for the Aircell Broadband system, including the Axxess unit with internal two-channel Iridium satcom receiver, is about $85,000, not including installation.

Aircell’s airline customers asked to have voice over internet protocol (VoIP) blocked, but according to director of marketing Tom Meyers, “At some point, we might allow VoIP for business aviation.”

The system is available now in its airline configuration. The business aviation-specific version will be available later this year.