Honeywell is on track to begin flight-testing connectivity hardware to support Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band service in the fourth quarter of this year, and says it is moving as quickly as possible to bring GX to airlines.
The manufacturer, which is responsible for delivering the terminal units for GX, will install its hardware on a Boeing 757 testbed before year-end. This will allow Honeywell to demonstrate the system to prospective clients, including Air China, and elicit their feedback, says Honeywell VP marketing and product management Jack Jacobs.
On 19 February Honeywell announced it had signed a MOU with Air China to test GX on an Airbus A330 aircraft. Explaining Honeywell’s arrangement with the carrier, Jacobs says Air China is “going to support our 757 testing here in the country in the fourth quarter of this year, when running those testbed trials. Also, a little bit before that, we’ll run ground test trials with Air China based on Inmarsat ground-based tests, though these will not be connected to the satellite.
“Then, in about second quarter 2015, we’ll start installing GX hardware on one of their [Air China’s] aircraft and we should be doing in-service trials somewhere later that year, depending on availability of their fleet. So STCs [are expected] in late 2015 timeframe if everything goes to schedule.”
Air China is the first carrier to publicly announce plans to trial GX, but the carrier has also announced plans to trial Global Eagle’s Ku connectivity system on a 777. During an earnings conference call yesterday Global Eagle executives said the firm is “seeking an STC for the 777” and fully expects to get, but they did not provide further specifics.
Asked by Runway Girl Network if Air China will be the first carrier to actually launch GX, Jacobs says, “Based on the schedule they set, they could definitely be the first for an A330. They are probably the first for that.”
Jacobs is also “pretty confident” that Air China will ultimately select Honeywell and GX for its full fleet, even though the carrier will trial Global Eagle Ku. “Air China was first to adopt L-band SwiftBroadband with us, and is a very cooperative customer, and I see it continuing on GX.”
He notes that Honeywell has a “pretty aggressive schedule” for rolling out its system. “If someone signs up tomorrow, maybe they’d be right behind them [Air China].”
Talks with other airlines are “going very well”, says Jacobs. “They are in different parts of he world, which is good. We’re seeing a lot of interest.”
He adds that Honeywell is also “definitely getting called into multiple different carriers within the US now, and to be honest, if Ka would have been available two years ago, this would have been an easy conversation. We’d already be the main choice. It’s just the timing.
“So we’re getting pulled into several conversations with domestic US airlines, saying, ‘We’re not happy with our service, can you go faster?’ so obviously we’re going as fast as we can.”
Inmarsat is also seeing increased momentum behind GX. “Aviation is the fastest growing sector for us. Now the growth is coming from Government and from business today but we feel, and I think the market feels, that we’re at an inflection point because what we’re seeing happen is customer cabin connectivity is starting to happen, we’re seeing multiple bids coming out of airlines we’re responding to and with Global Xpress coming we’re in a prime position to take a healthy share of that market going forward,” Inmarsat executive chairman Andrew Sukawaty said during an earnings conference call yesterday.