Is Your Aircraft “Mission Ready”?

November 2019

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In military terms, mission readiness denotes the extent to which a unit is staffed, trained, and equipped to complete an assigned mission. Those in business aviation tend to use more corporate terms such as operational availability or aircraft operational readiness, but essentially the idea is the same:  how often is the aircraft, its crew, and the flight department capable and ready to meet the corporation’s business and transportation objectives?

Unscheduled maintenance, weather and traffic delays, pilot and dispatcher actions, and other operational difficulties can impair the flight department’s ability to meet corporate objectives. Coordination between pilot and aircraft dispatcher can be key in ensuring the flight goals are accomplished. Dispatchers often perform the initial flight planning, including fuel calculations and flight path based on current and forecasted weather. Flight-planning software and services—offered by such companies as ARINC, Jeppesen, Rockwell Collins, Universal Weather and Aviation, and Honeywell—assist in planning routes based on weather, fuel efficiency, airspace considerations, traffic delays, and other factors. Some services also provide integrated safety management system (SMS) tools, international trip planning, overflight permits, departure and landing slots, fueling, catering, accommodations, ground transportation, and security arrangements.   

Dispatchers for fleet operators may be juggling several aircraft in various stages of flight at the same time, and new satellite-based technology helps dispatchers manage multiple aircraft in the air around the world at the same time. Tracking hardware installed on airplanes collects and sends aircraft performance, position, and often even maintenance data from onboard systems to the ground operations center using secure protocols.

For example, the Honeywell Sky Connect Transceiver uses the Iridium satellite network to send encrypted GPS position reports at set intervals to authorized control centers using secure data protocols, allowing dispatchers and ground support personnel to know where all aircraft in a fleet are located no matter how remote. Dispatchers, ground crew, and flight crew can use either text messaging or telephone to communicate with each other through Honeywell’s Aspire Satcom Broadband system.

Dispatchers and fleet operators can use Honeywell flight tracking maps to observe and manage aircraft. Using position data from datalink, satellite, and ADS-B, en route flights can be monitored and checked against flight plan routes, real-time weather, and connectivity services overlays. With active monitoring of each aircraft’s Wi-Fi services, operators are well-equipped to troubleshoot issues while the aircraft is still airborne, to keep passengers happy and to assure aircraft systems are ready for the next mission.

While connecting the flight crew, ground crew, and dispatchers is key for operational mission readiness, keeping passengers connected while in flight is an essential component to increasing their mission success. Several aircraft OEMs and third-party providers are now offering high-speed in-flight internet access on commercial and business aircraft using either the Ku-band of 12-18 GHz or the Ka-band of 26.5-40 GHz. Generally, the higher the frequency, the more bandwidth is available and the more data can be transferred, although new high-throughput satellites (HTS) are increasing speeds on spot-beam Ku-bands.

Bombardier has been offering Ka-band in-flight broadband internet connectivity on new Global and Challenger aircraft since 2016 and can also retrofit existing aircraft. Powered by Honeywell’s JetWave hardware and Inmarsat’s Jet ConneX satellite service, Bombardier claims its Ka-band service “is unbeatable in terms of in-flight speed, coverage, and reliability.”

 “Our customers need to stay connected no matter where they are in the world, and Bombardier continues to lead the industry in offering the most advanced in-flight media experience on both its new and in-service aircraft,” said Jean-Christophe Gallagher, vice president and general manager, customer experience, Bombardier Business Aircraft, in a 2018 press release. “With Ka-band, passengers can remain connected across oceans, at 41,000 feet, and virtually everywhere they fly. Moreover, our OEM-owned service centers have become masters of the installation to ensure aircraft are returned to service with a minimum downtime.”

The Jet ConneX service uses the Global Xpress network of Inmarsat-5 satellites that each produce 89 “highly efficient” Ka-band spot beams for global coverage except at the North and South poles. A fully redundant ground infrastructure supports the satellite network, with two ground stations for each satellite to provide network availability of at least 95 percent. Capable of providing speeds up to 50 Mbps to fuselage-mounted antennas and 33 Mbps to tail-mounted antennas, the Jet ConneX service allows passengers to conduct voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls and high-definition video streaming. 

“There’s no denying that cabin connectivity will continue to be a major driver in business aviation,” wrote John Peterson, Vice President and General Manager of Aerospace Services and Connectivity for the Honeywell Connected Enterprise in an October 2019 blog post on “Business jet passengers expect to connect to the internet on the aircraft just like they do at home or in the office. That will not change… Our solution provides business aviation operators with a comparable connected experience to their home or office, throughout their flight, and everywhere they fly, even on transoceanic journeys.”