Airlines now ordering aircraft with Global Xpress connectivity

Honeywell has secured several new, as yet undisclosed airline customers for its Global Xpress (GX) connectivity hardware, which will support the Inmarsat Ka-band service when it becomes available in 2015.

To date, the company – which is developing the terminal units for GX, and is a service distribution partner for GX to the business aviation community – has publicly announced that Air China will trial GX on an Airbus A330 in the second quarter of 2015. Gogo announced at the Aircraft Interiors Expo that Air Canada will also trial GX.

But Honeywell VP marketing and product management Jack Jacobs tells Runway girl Network that “several airlines” have committed to GX, though they haven’t gone public for various reasons. “We expect them to come out here in the next several months. We’re starting to definitely fill our factory orders which is what we wanted so things are heating up.”

Inmarsat Aviation president Miranda Mills also confirms that airlines are now “ordering aircraft and saying they want GX”. These aircraft will either be delivered with provisions for GX or with GX hardware already installed, depending on when they are slated to receive delivery.

The provisions, which follow the Arinc 791 standard, include reinforcing the aircraft skin and installing cabling, notes Ian Dawkins, CEO of GX distribution partner OnAir.  He says a number of airlines that ordered OnAir’s Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SBB)-supported Wi-Fi and mobile connectivity solutions have “already confirmed full provisions” for GX. “Everything is ready to go and what we’ve guaranteed is, if you put our equipment on board today, you simply connect the cable [for GX] and it operates”.

Obviously, under this scenario, the physical holes must still be cut in the aircraft to accommodate the Honeywell-supplied GX antenna system, and a Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) must still be secured. Dawkins says “early adopters” of GX will be accomplished through STC. “Consider our [current] customers; they operate the 787, 777s and A380s, the long-range aircraft, plus A330s and 777s, and will be able to upgrade very quickly so we put provisions on the aircraft today.”

What that means, says Mills, is that virtually “all of the structural work has been done on the fuselage and there is also space in the racks, so it’s less work in the aftermarket”.

The plan is to have linefit offerabilty with Airbus and Boeing “for 2015”, says Mills. Honeywell’s Jacobs says he believes “we’ll be in 2016 sometime when those linefits will start rolling off”, though “I can’t really say when. It depends on how expeditious both [airframers] want to be.”

Airbus has long been a fan of Inmarsat’s near global services; the airframer offers OnAir’s SBB-supported connectivity on its aircraft, and has offered GX in the A350 catalog “for years”, notes Mills. Airbus is also installing provisions on the A380 in anticipation for GX.

Interestingly, however, Airbus doesn’t appear to be moving quite as quickly as Boeing to offer GX across is portfolio. Work on the A320, in particular, has stagnated. Airbus released a RFI to take a holistic approach to connectivity on the A320, but the manufacturer is now re-evaluating its RFI, and is in a quiet period surrounding this work, Runway Girl Network can reveal.

“Boeing is more proactive and has started to issue dates and is working with Inmarsat and Honeywell, both targeting delivery date in 2015 or 2016 for linefit,” says Dawkins. Mills adds, “With Boeing, it’s across all of their aircraft types. In fact, when I think you look at the technical details of the layout, the 787 and the 737 have a standard design, and then the other aircraft are different. But Honeywell is working across all of the Boeing aircraft that are being built today so that it will be linefit offerable.”

Honeywell’s Jacobs says he wouldn’t necessarily “characterize it as one is going faster or slower”. Airbus, he notes, “has been proactive on the A350 program and Thales as well”. And, as mentioned, GX provisioning on the A380 is occurring. Airbus and Boeing “have different regional issues”, but “I’d say both are in the race and both have drawn different conclusions of how they want to put this together. There is a lot of work to go on both sides, and we’re working with both of them literally every day,” adds Jacobs.

As Honeywell progresses on the GX program, it is also gearing up to make its mark on the US connectivity landscape. The company has been chosen by AT&T to provide the connectivity hardware that will support AT&T’s forthcoming 4G LTE-based air-to-ground (ATG) service in the continental United States.

Among its deliverables to the AT&T program, Honeywell will develop the “fast”, “omni-directional” and – interestingly – “flat” antennas that will be fitted on the underbelly of aircraft to support AT&T’s ATG connectivity service. But Honeywell is already preparing to pitch hybrid connectivity solutions to the market. The LTE-based ATG system will be able to “operate seamlessly” with Honeywell’s GX and L-band satellite systems, notes Jacobs.

See below for my video interview with Jacobs at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.

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