With nearly 300 towers installed, SmartSky Networks' air-to-ground (ATG) system is now able to provide high-speed airborne connectivity for 97 percent of business aviation flight routes in the continental U.S., according to CEO Dave Helfgott. The remaining towers to build out the full network of 330 towers are “edge cases” in remote areas, he explained, and include some that will add density to the network.
“This is a momentous achievement,” Helfgott said. “Our service brings a new level of connectivity and capability to the business aviation industry that transcends any solution previously available, particularly in the ATG sector.”
SmartSky is continually testing its ATG network with three of its own aircraft—a Beechcraft King Air B200, Cessna Citation Excel, and Cessna Skymaster. In addition to the Excel, supplemental type certificates (STCs) are available for installation of the SmartSky system in the Gulfstream GIV/GV and G450/G550 (Pentastar); Bombardier Challenger 601 through 650 (Duncan Aviation); and Embraer EMB-135/145 and Legacy 600/650 (StandardAero).
“There are a lot more STCs on the horizon,” said SmartSky president Ryan Stone. “We’re working closely with flyExclusive on their fleet and also Jet It. We’re trying to get all the popular models certified.” SmartSky dealers that develop the STCs will share them under license arrangements so other MRO facilities can install the system, Stone explained.
While the current SmartSky airborne hardware is designed for midsize and larger jets, SmartSky is developing the Lite system for smaller aircraft. “We see a lot of demand in the light jet and turboprop market,” Helfgott said.
“As we complete entry-into-service,” Stone said, “our initial customers are flying and using the service to send data off the aircraft as easily as they stream it on. In concert, our world-class engineering team is using our software-defined network infrastructure to continuously fine-tune for optimal performance and coverage.”
The SmartSky ATG network provides consistent service in the range of 5 to 8 Mbps, although testing has demonstrated maximum speeds up to 15 Mbps. In a flight test last October of the system in SmartSky’s Excel, AIN joined a nearly full load of passengers simultaneously streaming video, making video calls, downloading emails with attachments, and running various software, each with multiple devices online.