Thales to scale down antenna radome for 70-seat regional jets

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Looking to provide inflight connectivity on smaller regional jets? Outside of Gogo’s air-to-ground (ATG) offering in the US and Canada, there aren’t too many options available on the market today. Thales is hoping to change that in the very near future in more ways than one.

It is no secret that the company is working with Embraer and JetBlue towards equipping the carrier’s E-190s with a dual antenna radome to offer both Ku-band-supported live TV and ViaSat’s Ka-band connectivity service for that fleet just like it is doing for the A320 and A321 aircraft. “We can put regional Ka on an Embraer aircraft. We’re the only company in the world who can do that. Not only do we do connectivity but we can put a TV antenna on it, too, with one radome,” Glenn Latta, president of Thales’ LiveTV unit, shared with RGN during a visit to its Melbourne, Florida headquarters.

Perhaps more significant, he also talked about scaling that offering down for smaller E-Jets, including the E-170. “We’re developing a single-antenna radome for either TV or connectivity. It is designed to be dual-use Ka/Ku. I’m convinced it is the lightest weight crown in the industry,” said Latta.

To be clear, the radome will be able to support either Ku live television or Ka connectivity; there is no single antenna to do both. So airlines will have to choose either TV or connectivity. But the radome will accommodate either choice. This offering could be welcome news to a variety of ERJ operators.

Today ATG is the only connectivity play for the 70-seat market. When United wanted to fit connectivity to its two-class regional jets, it tapped Gogo for the retrofit, even though it is currently fitting some 200 Boeing narrowbodies with Thales/LiveTV Ka connectivity.

Panasonic hopes its new phased array antenna can meet some of the market demand for RJ connectivity around the world, but the expected entry into service date is the fourth quarter of 2016. Thales expects to receive STC for its dual antenna radome on the E-190 before the end of 2014, and the single antenna version to be approved shortly thereafter in 2015.

For many airlines speed of implementation is now a key factor in choosing a vendor. The new Thales radome opens up many more options for airlines on smaller aircraft. And its lower cost to carry as well as the lower bandwidth costs over time for regional Ka make for a compelling service offering.

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