In a boost for Louisville, Colo.-based AirCell (Booth No. 1630), Gulfstream has selected the company’s Axxess cabin communications system as standard equipment aboard its line of large-cabin business jets spanning the G300 through G550.
Intended as a replacement for MagnaStar air-to-ground calling equipment, the Axxess system provides two channels of Iridium for voice calling and the ability to interface with other communication systems, including Inmarsat satcom services and AirCell’s own developmental broadband data service.
MagnaStar service provider Verizon said it is shutting down its network late next year, opening the door for companies like AirCell to provide alternatives.
In an interview with NBAA Convention News, AirCell CEO Jack Blumenstein said the company has delayed the launch of its air-to-ground broadband service for business jet operators slightly to focus on the airline market. American Airlines recently agreed to a trial of the service in a handful of Boeing 767s, and other carriers are thought to be close to striking similar deals.
The AirCell broadband service will transmit high-speed data to aircraft flying above 10,000 feet using special antennas placed at existing cellphone towers and other sites. About 100 towers will cover the continental U.S. when AirCell starts the service next year. Airlines will buy and install AirCell equipment and AirCell will charge passengers directly to access the network. A single session, lasting the length of a flight, will cost around $10, Blumenstein said. “Passengers want to be connected more than we originally thought,” he said. “And it’s not just business travelers. Leisure fliers want to be able to get online, too.”
The reason for the delay in the rollout of the service to business aviation, he said, is to give the company time to develop new antenna technology that can fit a broader range of airplanes, down to the size of midsize jets. AirCell also wants to ensure that the introduction of broadband service for airline passengers goes smoothly. The company claims the service will provide data connection speeds on par with DSL service on the ground.
Ten ground stations are now operational, and construction on another 10 is under way. Blumenstein said the company plans to increase its build rate to 25 a month starting next month in anticipation of having the full network finished early next year.
Gulfstream selected the AirCell Axxess EZ system last year as its aftermarket MagnaStar replacement choice and will continue to offer that system on a retrofit basis through its service center network and from authorized centers. AirCell will start shipping Axxess hardware directly to the Gulfstream factory in Savannah in next year’s second quarter.