Dassault Aviation (Static SD03, Booth Z89) late last year put a group of technical experts, marketers, and customers together for a week of brainstorming followed by a 48-hour “hackathon” to come up with new product ideas to improve the user experience for Falcon jet passengers. While the innovative products that are a result of this effort have not yet been announced, the need for reliable and fast airborne connectivity is critical for any such new passenger-facing products, and on Monday at EBACE 2018 Dassault launched FalconConnect to address the connectivity side of the equation.
At its heart, FalconConnect simplifies the user experience by providing one-stop connectivity services for owners and operators of new and in-service Falcons. Instead of buying airborne hardware and then arranging for service with a service provider, FalconConnect bundles all of the service, billing, and technical support into one simple plan and one bill. Dassault has partnered with Honeywell GoDirect services to support FalconConnect.
“During the last year, connectivity is a market that is growing really fast,” said Dassault Aviation business development manager Josselin Des Courtis. “We have to have to keep up to date because people are running their business on it.”
With new high-speed Ka-band satcom systems proliferating and allowing video streaming into the cabin, the cost of connectivity can easily exceed an operator’s expectations. “For connectivity, there is still room for improvement,” he explained. “Sometimes the bill for connectivity is so high, it’s almost compared to the [bill] for fuel. It’s a real problem, and sometimes that leads operators to cut off the Wi-Fi during flight. But [the owners] are here to run a business, and it should be a no-brainer to run connectivity.”
The goal for FalconConnect is to make the entire connectivity process seamless, backed by the aircraft manufacturer working with the service provider to optimize the entire experience.
For the customer, this means a dedicated single-point-of-contact with the FalconConnect team for billing, system configuration, adding new service, and troubleshooting. “You call FalconConnect and have someone able to answer questions about any of those topics,” Des Courtis said.
FalconConnect also addresses connectivity issues in the flight deck, including for pilots’ electronic flight bags, for an end-to-end solution, explained Christophe Régniez, Dassault systems engineering specialist. “Everything is connected in the aircraft, and we work with Honeywell to define all the use cases and architecture of the aircraft.”
“Now we have packages, like a cellphone, to cover your architecture and your needs,” said Des Courtis. “We will cover cockpit safety services, cabin communication, ground communication, and value-added services. There are no hidden fees and no surprises. It’s one package and one price.” Included in the package are fleet view, data usage trends, activation of services, consumption management, and billing and payment history.
FalconConnect isn’t just for aircraft equipped with Ka-band satcom such as Honeywell’s JetWave. Services are also available for traditional Ku-band satcom, Iridium and air-to-ground networks, quick-access recorder-based connected services, and FANS and ACARS safety services, among others. FalconConnect packages offer various amounts of data, depending on the customers’ needs. “We’re making it compatible with whatever is in the aircraft,” he said.
Existing Falcon owners and operators can now sign up for FalconConnect, and service begins this summer for later-model Falcon 900s and 2000s, as well as the 7X. Dassault is studying which of its older models to add to FalconConnect, and there is a high level of interest from owners and operators. New Falcons will roll off the assembly line in 2019 with FalconConnect already included.
FalconConnect software runs on the aircraft’s router, and the services available depend on the router’s capabilities. Most modern routers can run the FalconConnect software.
Dassault Aviation recognizes that connectivity service prices are a big issue, and a key part of the service is to help operators manage connectivity costs. The FalconConnect Manager app and portal include tools to help forecast consumption and filter how much passengers can use. For example, a filter can be set to limit video streaming to standard definition instead of high definition, which lowers the amount of data that needs to be sent to the airplane. “Through the FalconConnect portal, this allows the operator to manage the connectivity of each aircraft in the fleet,” said Régniez. Another tool allows the operator to set a maximum consumption limit then warns when that has reached 80 percent of the set target.
While Ka- and Ku-band satcom covers most of the world, there are limitations over the Earth’s poles and in some countries, and FalconConnect helps to set up “geofenced” areas where service is not expected to be available. When an equipped airplane is flying in those regions, FalconConnect can warn users that a coverage limit is about to be breached so they can prepare to be cut off.
FalconConnect Manager can also be used to filter which devices passengers can use while airborne, instead of allowing the many devices that people typically carry to log on and consume expensive data. This is especially useful when a passenger has left a device on and connected in their inaccessible baggage, allowing the device to be disconnected remotely.
Profiles can be set, such as allowing the owner to have unlimited connectivity and other passengers limited access. “You have the tools to decide which kind of data is available,” said Des Courtis.
FalconConnect simplifies billing, not just for the owner of the aircraft, but also for charter operations, where some connectivity charges need to be invoiced to passengers and some to owners when they use their airplane. “Aircraft are operated in many different ways,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the company, other times it’s charter. That means for everything connectivity-related it can be a mess. Now we have flexible tools and the ability to pay per flight per device.”
This includes providing a credit card billing option for users or vouchers that the crew can supply to passengers, avoiding the owner having to pay for connectivity that he or she never consumed. “This is a new way to see connectivity,” said Des Courtis. “We’re confident it will change the game from what was being done in the past.”