Bombardier picks Iridium satcom for CSeries, details Global cabin connectivity plan

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Bombardier has further honed the satcom plan for its CSeries twinjet, selecting Iridium to power its avionics, RGN can reveal.

“We’re starting by offering Iridium as the main satcom system to support the flight deck, including ACARS,” says Bombardier CSeries program director Sebastien Mullot. “It’s a very customer driven decision; we have been considering both Inmarsat and Iridium for a while, and we have more market demand for Iridium than Inmarsat due to the lower cost of Iridium, its weight and the fact that the system recently has been certified for [some] safety provisions.”

In May Bombardier announced that Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band cabin connectivity service would be offered as a linefit option on the CSeries, and that it had completed installation of the Ku antenna on CSeries flight test vehicle one (FTV1). The fact that Panasonic’s connectivity system for passengers is “very complementary” to Iridium-supported satcom for the cockpit (indeed Panasonic offers its own Iridium flight deck solution and is preparing to package Iridium with Ku) is a nice benefit, says Mullot.

“That’s something we have been watching for a while now. But even if Iridium is not with Panasonic, it will still be considered primary avionics system on the CSeries. Iridium is more than enough to offer connectivity to the flight deck.”

Bombardier is paying close attention to the roll-out of Iridium’s NEXT constellation of satellites, and the type of hardware upgrades required for the CSeries. “This is something we were watching closely with one of our key customers. One of the issues we have with NEXT is we want the systems to still be lightweight and we don’t want change that would drive change on the aircraft like the size of the antenna, so the NEXT system is something we have to look at in the future,” says Mullot

For now, he adds, Iridium offers a “very good alternative to an Inmarsat offering”.

Separately, Bombardier Business Aircraft this week confirmed it will be the launch business aircraft manufacturer for Honeywell Aerospace’s JetWave Ka-band satellite-supported cabin connectivity solution, including tail-mounted Ka antennas that operate over Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service.

“We’ll be making the Honeywell system available on the Global 5000, 6000, 7000, and 8000. These are aircraft that fly 12 to 16 hours in a single flight so because of their international profile it made sense to start there first,” says Bombardier Business Aircraft director of product planning Brad Nolan.

Global 5000 and 6000 customers will have the option to have JetWave hardware linefit at the factory beginning in 2016. As the in-development Global 7000 enters service later in 2016 and the Global 8000 in 2017, the Honeywell equipment will be available at that time. For the more than 500 Global aircraft already flying, Bombardier “will have an STC available”, says Nolan.

Customers can choose from five different data service providers – Satcom1, Gogo’s Aircell, Arinc Direct, Satcom Direct and OnAir. And all partners must meet quality of service parameters. Passengers can expect to be able to access “HD video conferencing, send large files, stream video files like Netflix content and really have that at home Internet experience. It’s quite a technical accomplishment but this is what our customers are looking for,” says Nolan.

At present, Bombardier is still deciding the type of data packages that will be offered, he says, “but what I can tell you is that the least expensive package will still offer better download speeds than any satellite system offers today, and the more premium packages will offer connectivity that is several times faster than either [current] satellite-based systems or air-to-ground (ATG) systems in the US, so the performance is there, and the equipment will be priced aggressively.”

Though Inmarsat’s full roll-out of Global Xpress is delayed due to a suspension of Proton rocket-powered satellite launches, Bombardier feels “very comfortable with Inmarsat’s plan”, says the Bombardier executive. “We’ll take hardware in 2015 and the [rest of the satellites] will be up in 2015, but first delivery of JetWave-equipped Globals doesn’t happen until 2016.”

Will Bombardier offer JetWave on other business aircraft types? “I have my whole team in Montreal making sure Bombardier is leading in terms of the next generation cabin experience for customers. So we’re starting with the Global fleet, and based on demand, we will at a later date decide if it [JetWave] makes sense for Challenger customers,” says Nolan.

Equally, he wouldn’t be drawn into a discussion over whether Honeywell’s hardware for Global Xpress would be offered on Bombardier’s commercial aircraft. However, Bombardier’s Mullot stresses to RGN that the airframer will be connectivity agnostic for the CSeries twinjet.

“The goal is to be able to meet all of the customer needs, and the way we approach it is really a matter of prioritization based on the customers’ request, and what they’re asking for. We acknowledge that we made an announcement recently regarding Ku-band connectivity; that was driven by customer interest, but as I might have told you in the past, our goal is to be able to offer various connectivity solutions. It’s something we monitor very closely,” says Mullot.

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