Corporate jet flying over clouds.

SmartSky edges closer to safety with launch of secure Private Intranet

SmartSky - Finally WifI that Wows

When pilots last week switched from satcom to high frequency (HF) radio to provide position reports due to the temporary outage of the Inmarsat I-4 F1 satellite for Asia-Pacific, the importance of having redundancy in cockpit communications and safety services was brought to the fore again. Now a growing number of voices, including SmartSky Networks, are suggesting that broadband cabin connectivity pipes should be able to serve as backup for safety services.

“Our position is you should be able to use the aircraft’s connectivity system as a backup for safety critical comms,” SmartSky president Ryan Stone reveals to Runway Girl Network. “When you fuse the capabilities of a highly secure network with the controlled data sharing of Skytelligence (SmartSky’s services platform), along with other hardware on the aircraft (like the Aircraft Interface Device), then this starts to become realistically possible.”

An Aircraft Interface Device or AID serves as the interface between a pilot’s electronic flight bag (EFB) and the flight-deck avionics, and can support real-time diagnostics and other applications. EFB data and aircraft health monitoring are not deemed safety-critical items, as strictly defined. But today at the AEA International Convention and Trade Show in Orlando, as SmartSky launches a new capability to keep inflight data secure from end-to-end, the CONUS-based nextgen air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity provider might be seen as flying in that direction.

The so-called SmartSky Private Intranet (PI) is made possible by the company’s proprietary Skytelligence services layer that connects an AID to the SmartSky ATG network — and with it, to SmartSky’s patented beamforming technology that assigns a separate connection to each aircraft with no bandwidth sharing — in order to route data to and from the aircraft.

“Once the data traffic reaches the SmartSky ground network, it is securely routed through one of the company’s three private data centers directly to the customer’s corporate enterprise network giving aircraft owners and operators the option for their inflight data traffic to completely bypass the internet and to determine how and when it is routed externally,” explains the firm.

A SmartSky spokesman tells RGN that this unique new broadband ATG feature “makes it possible for a private business jet — or any aircraft — to act as a true node on an intranet while in flight; for inflight data traffic to bypass the internet; for the cockpit and flight ops to have access to a secure private intranet domain, separate from the cabin’s domain; and to remove the need for a VPN even in flight.”

No additional regulations are required to deploy the private intranet feature, he says. “The new Private Intranet service can make it much easier to comply with an Aircraft Network Security Program (ANSP), should the operator need one. SmartSky hardware are already certified for aircraft use via STCs and if the operator has or decides to add an Aircraft Interface Device that may require an ANSP program, depending on the operational use.

“Additionally, it is the customer’s option to utilize the Private Intranet capability to enable their aircraft connection to function as a node on their corporate network, putting the corporate IT department in charge of the data over that connection.”

“SmartSky is about more than just connecting the back of the cabin. With our new Private Intranet, you can now have an easier time meeting your Aircraft Network Security Program (ANSP) requirements,” says SmartSky president Ryan Stone. Image: SmartSky

The SmartSky PI service “enables aviation customers with SmartSky-equipped aircraft to add a new level of security to their inflight data beyond the cabin Wi-Fi, now including electronic flight bags (EFB) and aircraft health monitoring”, says SmartSky. And with plenty of capacity to support the real-time transfer of maintenance and performance data, SmartSky PI helps make the cockpit “more responsive to changes in flight conditions, improving safety and flight efficiency”.

And there it is. That word, safety.


Safety critical comms include voice and/or datalink messages between pilots and ATC (usually via VHF; or L-band satcom when over oceans) and, to be clear, what SmartSky is bringing to aviation in CONUS with SmartSky PI is not aimed at supporting those specific connections at this time.

But purely from a technological standpoint, RGN took the opportunity to ask if SmartSky’s ATG service could meet the government’s stringent requirements for safety services — whether that be for civil aviation in general, or more specifically as eVTOLs come on line as part of an Advanced Air Mobility (AAM)/UAM ecosystem, or indeed in both scenarios.

“Yes, though obviously there are many details that would need to be ironed out,” responds Stone.

Specific to AAM, he notes that SmartSky’s NASA project for a cloud-based flight management system (FMS) with GE Aviation and Mosaic ATM “is a great example of how ATG can play a role, but perhaps even more importantly, helping to shape the path for how to safely integrate more aircraft and UAS into the skies. Because beyond the pipes, you also need the right data going to the right place at the right time. That’s where Skytelligence comes in, as well.”

That particular collaboration connects the airborne and cloud-based FMS to optimize airspace management while maintaining critical flight safety controls. It is particularly timely given that thousands of additional aircraft could be brought into the airspace in the coming years, creating additional VHF congestion, and indeed the need for more safety pipes and intelligent data.

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