TrueNorth Avionics held its 10th anniversary celebration at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa on February 23. From its start building handsets for what were then fairly crude airborne connectivity systems to today’s flying Wi-Fi networks, TrueNorth has ridden the technology wave and is poised to connect aircraft with next-generation satcom networks that are now coming on line.
Mark van Berkel, TrueNorth’s founder, president and CEO, found his feet in the aviation telecom business as chief avionics specialist for a Canadian government department tasked with adding an airborne telephone on the Prime Minister’s jet. “I didn’t know anything about it,” he admitted. “I knew navcom, autopilots and so on. It was a learning experience, and I kind of liked it and developed a passion for it.”
He went on to work for EMS Technologies on satcom projects, and, he said, “I was there at the beginning when people were starting to talk about putting Internet connectivity on airplanes. I feel like I’m a bit of a pioneer in that business. People were still connecting with modems.”
Van Berkel saw the need to build networks in aircraft to handle and route all the messages, and after founding TrueNorth and entering the handset business, “I realized that connected aircraft is what this business is all about,” he told AIN.
Now TrueNorth employs 32 people and is still expanding, with plans to move from its existing 5,000-sq-ft facility into a 17,000-sq-ft space. The company’s engineering, product support and business development teams are all growing to serve the buyers of TrueNorth routers, Wi-Fi products and Iridium satcoms used for Future Air Navigation System installations. The company’s Simphone Fans-1/A datalink UnitPlus is currently the only FAA-, EASA- and Transport Canada-certified Fans-over-Iridium system. “We’re reacting to the need to service the connected aircraft business,” van Berkel said.
The future is going to be much more airborne connectivity, according to van Berkel. “I forecast, and the industry did too, that by 2030 ninety percent or more of all the aircraft flying will have some sort of connectivity. Connectivity is really the future.” This will extend even to smaller aircraft, whose owners also want to be able to communicate electronically while flying. Although he couldn’t reveal any details, van Berkel said, “Pilatus PC-12s coming off the line in the next year or so are going to have Internet connectivity. I can’t imagine the world without the Internet. Just yesterday the Yellow Pages showed up on my doorstep. I thought, ‘Well great, somebody printed out some of the Internet.’”
Even smaller aircraft such as high-performance piston single-engine airplanes will be connected in some way. “It may not be the Internet in a Cirrus,” he said, “but it is going to be CPDLC [controller-pilot datalink communications] and pre-departure clearances. ADS-B is going to help with this, both terrestrial and satellite-based. Data is where it’s all going.
“Our business has morphed into the connected aircraft, where we help our partners,” Van Berkel said. “We see opportunities for things we’ve never thought about, even maintenance. We’re creating a network on the ground so maintenance personnel can download data while the airplane is stationary. Those are things we’re seeing coming across our desk, and people are asking for our help. This is a really awesome time to be in this business. We are seeing a transformation in aviation that will forever change our lives.”