Satcom Direct’s SD Xperience offering, which was launched at the NBAA convention in October, should prove attractive to Middle East customers, according to the Satellite Beach, Florida-based company.
Michael Skou Christensen, vice president of Satcom Direct (SD, Booth 477), said customers don’t really care about satcom bands, whether Ka, Ku, or whatever. What they care about is whether the system delivers the service that they expect. For this reason, he said that describing the service by the available experience is now preferred. “SD Xperience is an umbrella of services, on the ground and in the air.”
SD's acquisition of TrueNorth Avionics in 2016 “gave [it] an extended hardware portfolio,” he said. Prior to this, SD was an airborne connectivity provider. “Ten years ago activating services was sufficient. The reason we went to the hardware side was to give [customers] the right experience, not to sell hardware per se. So if you control the connection and the ground and add the aviation side, you can control the whole distribution side. TrueNorth [now Satcom Direct Avionics] gave us options and the ability to be a manufacturer.
"The last part was the software side, with the acquisition of AircraftLogs,” said Christensen. This replaced the internal system that used to be called Plane Simple and led to the introduction of SD Pro. “That was a play towards flight ops where they have various systems, for engines, the plane, connectivity. Everyone speaks about big data but it’s how you manipulate it and use it to optimize the operation to be as effective and efficient as possible.
“That’s why we acquired AircraftLogs,” he said. “A lot of offerings out there today are limited. They’re old technology and they don't draw all the data from the airplane. We were missing the piece that ties it all together when you dispatch the airplane.”
SD also will be highlighting at MEBAA its SD Scheduler software. “We demoed this at NBAA and it was very successful," he said. "People see the power. It’s designed for Part 91 [private operations] so is appropriate for head-of-state or corporate flight departments.
“With the help of Inmarsat we developed a planning tool and we recognized there are ‘dark beams’ in the JX [Ka-band Jet ConneX] network, for example where the satellite spot beam is not turned on. So we combine tools for predicting the routing where you will get the best connectivity.”
The post-flight element comes from SD FlightLogs, which captures flight data “so that everything the pilot does after a flight feeds into the scheduler and dispatcher, maintenance, etc., so they can see it straight away."
Third Connectivity Option
On the connectivity side, SD was selected by Inmarsat as a top-level value-added reseller for its Global Xpress (GX) service to business aviation. The service is marketed as Jet ConneX for the business aviation sector. “We continue to be a premium partner in aviation with Inmarsat,” said Christensen.
“We’re the biggest reseller [in business aviation] so they knew we spoke for 70 percent of the market. It shows the trust they have for us as their oldest partner in business and government aviation.” He added that Inmarsat recently announced the 400th GX installation, including 300 in business aviation.
While SD was selling Inmarsat connectivity, it also added ViaSat, a relationship that began in November 2017. SD's approach is to remain agnostic and let the customer decide which satcom system is best, said Christensen. Recently the company has added a third option—Intelsat. “For a long time, we thought there was a play for a third alternative,” he said. “This gave us a new opportunity to look elsewhere, and in came Intelsat. They had a very different approach” that works with business aviation.
Christensen said there is a large concentration of ViaSat Ku-band customers in the Middle East as well as many Inmarsat users, but now Intersat offers a third option.
At the NBAA show, SD flew a Gulfstream G450 into Orlando Executive in SD livery and proceeded on a worldwide sales tour to promote SD Xperience and other products, including Intelsat's new FlexExec service and it's up to 10 Mbps data rates. Christensen said “it performed great around the world,” and at one point the aircraft was receiving “seven or eight streams of live video” via FlexExec.
A key feature of FlexExec, he said, “is a pay-as-you-go option, so you don’t pay if the aircraft is down for maintenance. So we now think we have a more flexible set of options than the rest of the industry, all under the umbrella of SD Xperience.
"It’s interesting when you look at MEBAA and the Middle East market; they want flexibility. It is heavily based on head-of-state clientele—the ultimate customer that needs a tailored approach.”
At MEBAA 2018, SD is displaying a new flat-panel satcom antenna designed by its partner Qest. The aerodynamic antenna can fit on aircraft as small as an Embraer Phenom 300. “These are perfect for the widebodies that are common in the Middle East,” Christensen said, "but can also be sized for smaller aircraft." The flat-panel antenna features Qest’s Microhorn technology, which allows for more efficient signal control and thus a smaller antenna.
“We wanted an agnostic approach to the antenna system, too," he said. "It might cost $750,000 to put in a system and two years later there is a need for a different antenna and another large investment. This way customers can avoid that. If they want to transfer the airplane to a new system, you don’t have to install a new antenna, but simply replace the modules required."
SD has not installed any Qest antennas yet, but the company is working with aircraft manufacturers to make the antennas available for new aircraft as well as for retrofit, said Christensen.