Inmarsat eyes 2016 certification for cockpit satcom offering

Updated with clarification from company that launch date of next GX satellite has yet to be confirmed. In original story, it was reported that satellite would be launched at the end of June 2015.

Inmarsat is confident of attaining FAA certification for its Swiftbroadband Safety satellite communications (satcom) offering for cockpit connectivity by early 2016.

The new system is designed to replace the satellite firm’s ‘Classic Aero’ satcon system, and allows for much improved L-band voice and data transmissions to cockpits, says Stephen Angus, a senior director in the company’s safety and operational services unit.

The Swiftbroadband Safety offering is delivered via the satellite operator's constellation of three I-4 satellites, which are at geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

Angus spoke with Flightglobal at the Communicasia trade event in Singapore.

Angus estimates that 90% of the world’s transoceanic widebody fleet uses the Classic Aero system. The new system allows far higher bandwidths, improving voice communications and providing better support for digital flight bags.

“Pilots want more decision making data and they want it in real time,” says Angus. “They want to understand weather, turbulence, and they want to manage decision making with better tools. Having a bigger pipe means we will be able to explore a new generation of technology about what happens in the cockpit.”

Certification flights have taken place with a number of airlines, he adds.

Angus adds that Inmarsat is receiving strong interest in its planned GX cabin connectivity offering, which operates on the Ka band. So far, two of the required GX satellites have been launched to GTO. The third and last satellite has yet to follow.

The GX system will provide high-speed in-flight wi-fi aboard commercial airliners and business jets through equipment provided by Honeywell.

"If you think about the evolution of broadband even on the ground in the last ten years, nobody realised how much it would speed up, but also how incredible its availability would be,” says Angus. “Anyone who is under 30 expects to be connected no matter where they are."

Each GX satellite, he adds, has 87 spot transmission beams plus six additional beams that can be steered. Inmarsat can direct the steerable beams toward areas where bandwidth demand is high, such as major metropolitan areas during peak flight hours.