Budget-priced satcom has FAA nod, starts shipping

 - June 30, 2008, 8:59 AM

Less than a year after Blue Sky Network (BSN) declared at NBAA ’01 its intent to provide general aviation with more affordable satcom technology, its CEO, Jon Gilbert, is in Orlando announcing FAA certification and deliveries of airborne equipment.

Gilbert, who flies his personal Cessna 414 out of San Diego’s Montgomery Field, said last December in New Orleans that he founded BSN to provide a satellite phone service affordable to owner-pilots like himself, using off-the-shelf commercial telecommunications hardware. “I got tired of seeing almost everything priced three times higher just because it says ‘aviation’ on it.”

Since then, Blue Sky Network (Booth No. 777) has gone from a concept to a full-fledged commercial operation, shipping its first customer equipment in July. Last week, it signed a partnership with Iridium Satellite LLC giving BSN clients access to “the highest level of Iridium options and support.” The La Jolla, Calif.-based company is an end-to-end provider of satphone equipment and service plans based on Iridium-specific Motorola commercial satellite phone equipment and the global Iridium network of 48 L-band satellites.

Over the past nine months BSN has broadened its offerings to include five portable and fixed installation equipment kits ranging in price from $1,995 to $9,295, along with a quintet of voice and data service plans. The lowest priced kit, a portable system, includes a single-channel Iridium-tuned antenna, Motorola 9500 portable satphone, cabling and hands-free headset adapter for cockpit use with either cell or satellite phones.

The identical system, but with a Motorola 9505 portable phone, is $500 more. Dual-channel (two phone line) capability adds another $1,000. A fixed installation, single-line kit with a Motorola-made cabin console transceiver/phone unit modified to BSN specifications lists for $6,995. The top-of-the-line suite includes two lines and both portable and cabin-mounted phones.

The service plans provide from 10 to 800 monthly minutes for from $35 to $1,000, including a $20 monthly service fee. BSN will allow customers to change service plans during the one-year contract period to accommodate the need for more or less monthly minutes.

For seasonal users the company also offers a prepaid plan with no monthly service charge.

Blue Sky already has one satisfied user’s endorsement. Erik Lindbergh, grandson of “The Lone Eagle,” took BSN satellite-based equipment in his Lancair Columbia 300 high-performance piston single as he re-created his grandfather’s epic 1927 New York-Paris flight in May. Afterward, he told Gilbert, “The Blue Sky equipment was absolutely central to the success of the New Spirit of St. Louis flight.”