SmartSky Lite Bringing 4G to Smaller Aircraft

 - March 26, 2018, 11:52 PM

As SmartSky Networks continues building out its air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity network in the continental U.S., it introduced a new system for light jets and turboprops, SmartSky Lite, on Monday at the 2018 Aircraft Electronics Association show in Las Vegas. The Lite system will offer the same 4G LTE network speed as SmartSky’s current system for midsize and larger jets, but is limited to six devices on board.

The Lite system is expected to cost less than $50,000, according to SmartSky, and early adopters can take advantage of a promotional offer of airtime at a fixed rate of $75 per hour, which includes unlimited data. While SmartSky doesn’t provide speed numbers, the 4G LTE network does allows video streaming by multiple users. The service provider for SmartSky airtime is Satcom Direct. Almost any router can be used with SmartSky systems.

SmartSky hasn’t yet released specifications for the Lite system, “but it’s far enough along to know that it’s going to be a beautiful solution for the light jet and turboprop market,” said Alan Goodnight, vice -president of business aviation. Another difference between the Lite and the jet system is the size of antennas, with larger antennas required for the midsize and larger jet system. The Lite system is designed for aircraft weighing up to 19,000 pounds.

SmartSky’s ATG network is about 55 percent completed, and the company has been flight testing the equipment in a Citation Excel since last year. The Excel is the first aircraft STC’d with the SmartSky 4G LTE system. SmartSky recently received FAA parts manufacturer approval for its hardware, which will make STCs easier to obtain. STCs for other midsize and large-cabin business jets are under way and are under development by SmartSky dealers, which will own the STCs. “We don’t plan to be in the STC business,” said Goodnight. SmartSky is also in discussion with manufacturers for possible installations in newly built aircraft.

As STCs are completed, some aircraft owners who that committed early to buying a SmartSky system will likely have the installation done before the network goes live sometime this year, and they will be able to use the system where it is available. “As we continue with the certification program, the geography gets better,” he said. “We’ve been flying the network since last year.” SmartSky’s data centers are active and “we’re still optimizing” the network, he added.

When the network is officially launched, it will provide full coverage for areas where more than 95 percent of business aviation flight hours are flown. This includes the Northeast U.S. to Florida, for example, and Boston and New York to and from California, plus popular areas in the central U.S., but not the upper Midwest. The continental U.S. will eventually have full SmartSky coverage.

“This is a market that has been underserved for decades,” said Goodnight. “There has not been a good solution for [the light jet and turboprop] market in our opinion.”