This week the first airline customer rumored to take on Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband service to transmit prioritized voice and ACARS/Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) data was confirmed as Hawaiian Airlines. The first hint that Hawaiian would take the leap came this spring, when company VP of flight operations Ken Rewick said – in the wake of MH370’s disappearance – that the airline was interested in partaking in Inmarsat’s trials for free tracking over SwiftBroadband.
Hawaiian has already begun testing for approval of the so-called SB Safety service. The carrier reached agreement to equip its Boeing 767-300s with Cobham’s ‘Aviator S’ SwiftBroadband satcom hardware, a solution that also provides the upgrade path for airlines currently using Inmarsaat Classic Aero in concert with Cobham’s Aviator 300 satcom system.
Speaking to RGN this week at the APEX Expo in Anaheim, California, Cobham director of aerospace sales Andy Beers said the configuration keeps safety in mind. “It’s not an on and off switch, the way it’s wired and breakered makes it extremely difficult for somebody that didn’t know about that particular LRU [to disable].” Cobham likewise minimized size and weight. “It reduces one box completely and cuts the [total] weight down by about 50 percent,” said Beers.
Cobham anticipates that testing of SB Safety will be finished in about a year, with additional unnamed airline customers joining during the trial period. A full suite of Aviator S series hardware is expected to be released by mid-2016. “We’re talking to every major airline,” said Beers. “One of the things about Inmarsat is that their network from day one has been built around safety services … so we anticipate it won’t take as long as Iridium did to get certified.”
During the safety evaluation period, Hawaiian is using Aviator S and SB Safety for FANS and CPDLC messaging, but the service will also support its electronic flight bag (EFB) program, eFLIE, which will include real-time weather and inflight re-routes.
Cobham and Hawaiian are both working with the FAA on getting SB Safety approved, and a rulemaking committee is evaluating Hawaiian’s trial data against a datalink recording mandate with the hopes of modifying the current rule. Cobham air transport sales manager, Americas, Brian Anderson told RGN, “There are airlines saying, ‘Wait, well we can make a safer airplane, but we can’t afford to record all the messages. … So we wrote a technical white paper we’ve put forward to the FAA … to clarify the rule … which [would mean] more expense.”
Meanwhile, Inmarsat tells us that the changes involved in carrying out an upgrade to SB Safety for current SwiftBroadband customers depends on which existing satcom equipment is already installed, the antenna configuration in place, and the SB Safety services that the airline wants to support.
“Depending on the current configuration of the aircraft, SB Safety capability can easily be added as a software upgrade,” says an Inmarsat spokesman. “Some SwiftBroadband customers may need to upgrade their satcom hardware in order to have SB Safety. Current users of SwiftBroadband should discuss available upgrade options with their satcom systems supplier.”
Inmarsat expects the cost of satcom terminals which provide cockpit connectivity to reduce significantly with the advent of SB Safety, particularly as SwiftBroadband and SB Safety aircraft systems – both antennas and avionics – are continuously evolving with new smaller, lighter, cheaper systems being introduced by its hardware partners. As well as the lower price of SB Safety satcom equipment, Inmarsat also expects the total cost of ownership to be much lower than for Classic Aero. This is achieved through the satcom system weight savings, and through the lower wholesale voice and data costs, compared to Classic Aero, that are being offered by Inmarsat to its distribution partners for SB Safety services.
Crucially, adds the Inmarsat spokesman, “In addition to the cost savings, airlines will benefit from the same cockpit Safety service voice and ACARS services offered by Classic Aero, with improved ACARS message delivery times, but most notably a prioritized SwiftBroadband IP connection to the cockpit that can support a huge range of real-time safety and operational connectivity applications; including real-time EFB connectivity and the routine transfer Flight/Maintenance Operations data, Flight Data Recorder and Engine Health Monitoring data to the ground. On top of this, SB Safety has an in-built GPS aircraft tracking function, which is capable of constantly transmitting aircraft position, altitude, speed and heading to the airline. This flight tracking capability is in addition to the SB Safety FANS/ADS-C ACARS capability.”