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Airlines

Ringing the changes

The connectivity business has expanded in recent years, says Honeywell, and is continuing to grow. Ian Harbison investigates
 

John Peterson, VPGM of Services and Connectivity at Honeywell, says that, five years ago, airlines had a simple decision making process if they wanted to introduce connectivity on their aircraft – buy the equipment, select the service provider and sell the service to the passenger. Now, he sees a migration to having greater control over what is offered and what is charged (and who gets the service for free, depending on cabin class or being a member of an awards programme). A part of this is taking more account of the capital expenditure involved against the potential revenue from passengers and advertisers to make an economic argument.

 

However, as connectivity has moved from the cabin to include the cockpit, the airline’s flight operations and maintenance departments are now involved, and so a number of other factors have to be taken into account. Honeywell’s involvement has also grown, from being just a hardware supplier – from antenna, WAP and router – to a complete solutions provider. The company has considerable connectivity experience in the business aircraft market, he says, so cybersecurity issues have been resolved already, pointing out that with billions of airline passengers flying every year, there is clearly an increased risk. This not only includes malware but credit card security for payments. Of course, an airliner is larger, so another important consideration is the synchronisation of aircraft, system, and data buses in the most efficient way.

 

There is also a need to aggregate the most important data and download it for later analysis. This can include the commercially valuable passenger usage information as well as technical status. Increasingly, the latter will be used for predictive maintenance. As satcoms provide two-way communications, connectivity is being used to help pilots with live weather updates, while GoDirect Flight Efficiency brings together Honeywell’s flight-data analytics platform with a growing suite of trajectory optimisation tools to help reduce fuel burn.

 

The service is already used on nearly 3,000 aircraft, including those from Etihad Airways, International Airline Group, Gulf Air, Japan Airlines, KLM and Lufthansa. There have been some questions about ownership of data, but Honeywell makes it quite clear that anything it collects is owned by the airline concerned. Of course, that data has to be analysed and for that, Honeywell charges a fee. This, he says, is no different to buying software programmes to support particular functions. Where a customer wants to share – between the member companies in the International Airline Group, for example – then the company is happy to author that.

 

SPACE

He says that satellite capacity is due to increase eightfold in the next five to seven years. That will be a mix of high capacity geostationary (GEO) satellites and low earth orbit (LEO) networks using lots of lower power satellites. Honeywell is neutral between the two and happy to be involved with both, he adds. As a GEO example, the company has its Aspire cabin and cockpit satellite communications systems that work with Inmarsat’s L-band SwiftBroadband, while JetWave works with Inmarsat’s Global Xpress (GX) Ka-band network. In fact, he says Jetwave has flourished in the last two years as the only seamless global coverage provider for High Throughput Ka- band services.

 

There have been a number of airline wins and a healthy backlog to be installed over the course of this year and next. As a LEO example, it works with Iridium Communications, which recently completed its NEXT network of 66 crosslinked LEO satellites operating in L-band. Data can be transmitted in real-time to and from any location on the globe without the need for an extensive ground station network, and allows consistent, high-quality coverage, including over the oceans and polar regions. For aviation, he says that passengers do not have the problem of delay (latency) as the signal travels to a geostationary orbit and back to the surface, while pilots can maintain clear voice contact without resorting to unreliable HF radio. Another example is OneWeb, which is planning a constellation of more than 600 satellites, which will provide approximately 10TBps of internet access.

 

MARKET

The extra capacity will inevitably drive down prices, but he expects to see a lot more creativity in how airlines can take advantage and introduce new revenue streams – at the very least, billions of impressions a year is a big deal for advertisers. Advertising will be important because airlines are seeing pricing and packaging going according to what passengers will pay: someone who wants to stream movies is willing to pay; someone who wants to email or stay in touch with the office is willing to pay as well but, as they use a lot less bandwidth, will want to pay less; someone who just wants to send a text message will expect the service for free or to pay a minimal charge.

 

TECHNOLOGY

He says that there are technology developments that will bring additional benefits in the near future; again a mixture of service and operational improvements. There is a move towards smaller phased array antennae with improved performance and reduced weight and drag penalties. Modems, particularly in Ka-band, will be capable of capturing more spectrum, increasing capacity, while dual polarity will allow simultaneous transmit and receive operations. Finally, there are new ways to extract higher efficiency and data rates from the existing spectrum.


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