Connectivity update

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Kurt Weidemeyer, vice president of strategy and business development, outlines Inmarsat Aviation’s latest developments

What was Inmarsat’s news at NBAA-BACE 2018?
At this year’s show, held in October 2018, Inmarsat highlighted its hugely popular business aviation solution, Jet ConneX, which now has more than 40 STCs and is offered by all major manufacturers and aftermarket dealers. We also announced a significant update in the number of jets installed with Jet ConneX – 400. The global, high-speed Ka-band solution is being snapped up by Fortune 500 companies.

We also discussed our highly anticipated European Aviation Network (EAN), a first-of-its-kind hybrid of S-band satcom and 4G LTE connectivity, developed in partnership with Deutsche Telekom and scheduled for introduction in early 2019 over Europe. We also highlighted some exciting upcoming features of our L-band network, SB-S.

In another exciting development, we announced the new senior vice president of business and general aviation, Kai Tang, who, working in tandem with our well-established ecosystem of world-class partners and OEMs, will lead in the delivery of the only global, high-speed inflight wi-fi option available for business jets today.

What trends are you seeing in terms of the types of aircraft Jet ConneX is being installed on, and how it’s being used?
The business jet community is made up of companies and individual operators who are used to having the best of everything and having it first. Customer demands are growing, they want unparalleled speed and quality and they want it now. Our customers want to be able to livestream the game that’s just kicked-off in their hometown while dialing in to a conference call and keeping on top of emails.

The overwhelming demand for Jet ConneX in the business jet market is a testament to the quality of our service. With the technology now available to Gulfstream, Bombardier, Dassault, Airbus, Boeing and Embraer customers, we only expect orders to continue to increase. The solution is also being snapped up even faster since Inmarsat added new data plans for Dassault jets and received G550 certification.

Our projections also show that the European business aviation fleet will grow beyond 5,000 aircraft in the coming years. We expect a strong uptake for Inmarsat’s highly anticipated EAN when it enters commercial service in the business aviation market in early 2019. It will be a game changer for the European business jet industry.

What other applications/aircraft types could be viable in the future?
Our strategy is to move down market with smaller Ka-band fuselage-mounted antennas so mid-sized aircraft that can’t support a 12in (30.5cm) antenna in a fin cap can receive high-speed connectivity. These development programs are slated for 2019.

Do you have plans to invest in further capacity?
With passenger numbers set to double by 2035, Inmarsat is investing in a roadmap to futureproof its network for customers, so as demand grows so will our capacity.

Last year we confirmed investment in future satellite launches, including three further satellites with Ka-band payloads planned from 2019; we can expand capacity where and when it is needed. Inmarsat’s fifth GX satellite will be launched in 2019 by Arianespace.

Inmarsat has also awarded the contract for the building of the first two sixth-generation satellites to Airbus Defence and Space. The first of these is scheduled for launch in 2020 using Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ H-IIA launch vehicle.

What trends/challenges are you seeing in the connectivity market?
This year we unveiled the findings of our fourth annual global Inflight Connectivity Survey in association with market research company Populus. The largest survey of its kind, reflecting the responses of more than 9,300 airline passengers globally, the report revealed that inflight wi-fi is more popular than ever and is now a key driver in forming customer loyalty and satisfaction among airline passengers.

This was particularly clear among high-value customers and business travelers, who are the most likely to use wi-fi but the least willing to put up with a lesser quality service. While the survey relates to commercial aviation, the results emphasize why standards and expectations are even higher among the business jet community. The challenge for inflight wi-fi providers to the business aviation market is keeping up with the sky-high expectations of some of the world’s most demanding customers.

What solutions do you offer for smaller aircraft?
While not specifically built with small aircraft in mind, Jet ConneX is suitable for a range of business jets. With more than 40 STCs available, Jet ConneX is offered as a preferred line-fit option by all four major manufacturers and aftermarket dealers.

Our JetWave terminal, offered exclusively by Honeywell, is lightweight – to minimize fuel burn – yet robust, which maximizes time between maintenance.

EAN will be revolutionary for the smaller aircraft which fly predominantly in Europe, offering gold-standard inflight wi-fi to a broad spectrum of aircraft, including small turboprops.

What developments do you have in the pipeline?
One of the most significant developments in the pipeline is the roll-out of the EAN in the business aviation market. In May 2018, we announced that the high-speed inflight wi-fi solution, designed for Europe’s congested skies, is set to enter commercial service on business jets by early 2019.

This will be a game changer for the sector, bringing gold-standard inflight wi-fi to a broad spectrum of aircraft, from small turboprops to larger platforms. With Europe’s business aviation fleet expected to exceed 5,000 aircraft in the next few years, we expect uptake to be strong and are already working with a large business aviation launch customer.

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Izzy has been part of the Business Jet Interiors International team since its second issue, and the editor since 2011. She also edits Auditoria, Railway Interiors International and Winter Sports Technology International. Outside of work, Izzy is rediscovering her love of art by learning how to paint with watercolors.

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