VIDEO: Do separate IFC systems make safety sense?


Now that airlines are using inflight connectivity systems to support both passenger connectivity and certain crew applications, some are eager to install totally separate systems to alleviate cyber security concerns.

But adopting separate hardware is not an inexpensive proposition. “Physical hardware separation is certainly a viable solution to cyber security, though multiple broadband connectivity systems may be cost prohibitive for some carriers,” notes a Boeing spokesman.

“In the case of integrated networks, cyber security can be addressed by a layered approach that involves combinations of hardware and software solutions.”

Indeed, when developing the 787 and the 747-8, Boeing had to demonstrate to the FAA that certain flight critical domains could not be tampered with by hackers. In issuing its special conditions to the airframer, the FAA mentioned that the airliners would have “novel or unusual design features associated with the architecture and connectivity capabilities of the airplane’s computer systems and networks, which may allow access to external computer systems and networks”. Boeing was able to show compliance to the agency.

Even so, last year Thales told me that it was fielding requests from a number of Boeing operators that wanted to install two connectivity systems – one for the cabin and the other for the cockpit – to ensure optimal security.

Now that Inmarsat’s L-band-based SwiftBroadband aeronautical service is poised to support high-quality safety voice and data functionality (known as safety services) in the cockpit – services that are expected to reduce the cost of satellite ACARS messaging by at least 30% and would be prioritized over cabin users – it’s easy to envisage scenarios whereby operators will dedicate all channels of a SwiftBroadband-based connectivity system to the cockpit, whilst installing larger bandwidth Ku- or Ka-band pipes to support passenger connectivity.

At present a number of airlines split available SwiftBroadband channels between cockpit and cabin. The bandwidth available to the cabin supports what can realistically be considered light Wi-Fi solutions, and inflight GSM for passengers “but we’re not talking about several Mbps traffic”, says Richard Roithner, director satcom at global consultancy Euroconsult.

To be clear, says Roithner, “We don’t think L-band will go away. It’s just impossible. The reliability, the safety requirements; regulation is all moving ahead. It will stay in the cockpit forever. In the cabin, it’s obviously a different story, but … there could be some nice hybrid solutions or mixed packages using L-band in the cockpit or for safety communication or even as a back-up solution in terms of Ka or Ku services [in instances where the latter is] blocked or has temporary outages or difficulties in connecting, and really Ku- and Ka-band for the broadband connectivity.”

Andy Beers, director of aeronautical sales at satcom hardware specialist Cobham, seems to concur, recently telling Avionics Today:  “I think the first wave of connectivity for air transport has kind of happened. And I think that there are, naturally, for the cabin – if we’re speaking about the cabin right now – that need for a very large data connectivity pipe is evident. You’ve got a lot of passengers that want to have a lot of access. They want to have a lot of bandwidth to do a lot of things.

“But I think beyond that first wave of connectivity, there’s a second and possibly third wave of some very segment-driven needs for connectivity. Maybe regional airlines or other airlines that don’t need that or want to have both a large pipe for the cabin but also want to have connectivity that’s separated from the cabin for the flight crew. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for L-band and others to coexist, especially when we’re talking about the safety services aspect, which we know those large pipes will not serve.”

See my full interview with Euroconsult’s Roithner below.