A Dassault Falcon 7X operated by Swiss-based Amjet Executive has become the first aircraft of its type to be fitted with OnAir’s in-flight mobile phone and Wi-Fi equipment. The charter operator started offering passengers the connectivity services on May 1, just five months after Dassault announced the availability of Mobile OnAir and Internet OnAir as line-fit options on the long-range 7X in December 2012. Amjet took delivery of its 7X from Dassault’s completions center in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 26.
“It is certainly a pleasure to fly on our aircraft, but it must also be productive time. Your office needs to go with you and an integral part of that is being able to stay in touch, by both phone and email, as if you were on the ground,” said Amjet chairman, Capt. Abakar Manany. “We selected OnAir because it is the only company that can provide both GSM and Wi-Fi connectivity for business jets everywhere in the world.”
Mobile OnAir uses a mini-GSM network to allow customers to use their own cellphones in flight. Calls, texts and data usage are billed at premium rates directly to the user through their service provider in the same way as standard international roaming.
Internet OnAir provides Wi-Fi connectivity through Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband service, allowing passengers and crew to get online via laptops, tablet devices or smartphones. OnAir provides the Wi-Fi and mobile GSM connectivity through regulatory approval from 90 countries and with roaming agreements through 350 different service providers.
OnAir (Booth 1663) is now in talks with a second business aircraft manufacturer with a view to having its GSM and Wi-Fi services available as a line-fit option. The timeline for this program has yet to be confirmed.
According to OnAir CEO Ian Dawkins, the ability to provide personal cellphone service with simple, transparent billing directly to the customer has become a significant differentiator in the market for connectivity on business aircraft, and especially for charter operators. “You simply switch on your mobile phone in flight and see OnAir as the network provider,” he told AIN. “The connection is better than you would get in your car. The quality of the connection is perfect and you don’t get any weak spots.”
By contrast, Dawkins acknowledged that in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity still does not match the bandwidth available on the ground and that, partly for this reason, some passengers opt not to use it. However, he maintained that the SwiftBroadband connections are adequate for up to 500 customers on an Airbus A380.
The desire to offer greater bandwidth has driven OnAir to sign up as a distribution partner for the GX Aviation Ka-band service being introduced by Inmarsat and Honeywell (see box). This promises connection speeds of up to 42 Mbps for data relayed to the aircraft and 4 mbps for data coming from the aircraft–at least 10 times faster than the dual-channel two times 432 kbps provided by SwiftBroadband today.
OnAir, which is now fully owned by aviation IT group SITA (after it acquired Airbus’s remaining 30-percent stake in February), will install the equipment to enable GX Aviation, as well as managing the service and reselling connection time. “We will offer this as an option,” said Dawkins. “On some aircraft SwiftBroadband will be more than adequate. If business aviation wants to be a leader it will want to be ahead of the airlines [in terms of passenger service standards] and will need to offer a combination of GSM and Wi-Fi [connectivity].”