As the aviation industry continues to move towards standards-based approaches for inflight connectivity equipage, Anuvu is making an interesting claim: its original installation for Ku-band IFC, colloquially known as the ‘pizza box’ install, has enjoyed a better maintenance history than its more standard install — and indeed is still favored by its major customers.
“[W]e have two installations,” explains Anuvu executive vice president – connectivity Mike Pigott. “We have the ARINC 600/ARINC 791 installation and we have our original, the old Row 44 installation (video below), and the maintenance intervals are better for the airline” with the latter.
With hardware units accessible via the ceiling panel, he notes, “you don’t need to touch the equipment as much versus the standard” with boxes in the E&E Bay. The original Row 44 retrofit installation also features a doubler plate atop the fuselage as opposed to a universal adapter plate that can support a wide range of antennas and is favored by OEMs.
“So, the lugs and adapter plate” part of ARINC 791 “is a good concept. It’s a good improvement,” admits Pigott, and it has been adopted for Anuvu’s linefit installs at Boeing. “But almost everything else with the ARINC 791 involves more activity by the airline, more difficult access. You need to go to the E&E Bay instead of popping a ceiling panel and pulling an item of care down.”
Modified pizza box for Boeing linefit
Intriguingly, Anuvu’s linefit installation for Boeing 737 twinjets largely “is the pizza box installation because our customers looked at that and then they looked at what Boeing could do, and they said to Boeing: ‘we want this installation,'” he says. That seems remarkable in itself.
Anuvu’s linefit package for Boeing does, however, include an adapter plate because it’s a Boeing radome so it’s a Boeing system. And Anuvu recognizes that “ease of switching [antennas] is a big deal and so having the lugs and having an adapter plate maybe makes sense. It adds weight. It adds cost, it adds complexity on the initial install, but in an aircraft lease environment and aircraft restoration environment it’s a good thing,” notes Pigott.
Whilst RGN is using the ‘pizza box’ terminology here, as it was part of our interview with Pigott, Anuvu no longer publicly refers to its original Row 44 retrofit install as such because the reference was perceived by some as unprofessional. Rather, it now refers to it as the ‘profile design’, which is still on offer alongside its standards-based package, whilst, again, Boeing linefit installs, specifically, are the ‘profile design’ with the ARINC 791 adapter plate.
But he reckons that Anuvu has a competitive advantage in terms of easing maintenance items for airlines with the ‘profile design’ in part “because those 737 E&E bays are literally tiny” so, in comparison to competing systems, “we don’t have any troubleshooting” in the bay.
So, when a maintenance technician boards the plane, literally they have to pop the ceiling panel down, look at the box. They don’t have to connect to the box. In fact, we don’t allow them; we don’t have an ability to just plug in and connect the box. They don’t take a laptop with them.
All our competitors have troubleshooting skills that need to be learned by maintenance technicians that have fifty other jobs. Ours, we tell them the box to swap … Or we tell them, ‘look at the box, are the three lights on?’ And most of our boxes have lights on that just indicates if power’s in the box. If power is in the box, we can tell it’s functioning. And if the lights aren’t on, swap it. If the lights [are] on, call us, okay, maybe there’s something else, but chances are it’s still swap. And like, it’s easy.
This type of approach has worked especially well for Anuvu—formerly Global Eagle—formerly Row 44’s airline customers, which have tight turnaround times.
Even so, when the Row 44 system was first retrofitted to aircraft, reinforced with a doubler plate, some industry stakeholders suggested that the install was unsafe. “Those people were wrong,” says Pigott. “If you look at our other competitors out there, not to throw shade, we have not had aircraft directives due to cracking. We have not had aircraft directives due to antennas being impacted from the wind stream. We got it right.
“Now I will say this, again, the ARINC 791 does allow swapping [antenna systems] a lot easier [but] we think we solved that in a more elegant way with … a common mount. Like you just change your mount. If you go look at our DPSAA antenna [Anuvua’s new dual panel Ka-band inflight connectivity antenna system], it has that common mount and we built that with the mount in the design ….You’ll see in the center of it has the cylinder and the cylinder is what would attach to an adapter plate. So, we’re planning on maintaining this for the future.”
Regarding the ARINC 600 boxes (4 MCU and 2 MCU enclosures), “one of the biggest constraints of those boxes is the standards”, suggests Piggot. “So that 4MC box has a thermal limitation and the thermal limitation was put in place because of the standard and someone just wrote it in the standard and it’s in there.”
While stressing that the box is completely safe, with very well-known components, he suggests that “now we’re reaching the point where multiple modem cards, multiple modem cards with the server, they do put out a lot of heat”. The Anuvu executive mentions this thermal limitation simply as an example of how “there is tremendous value and tremendous good reasons for standards, but they need to keep up with the pace of innovation”.
Alongside ARINC industry activities around standards for avionics and interfaces, Seamless Air Alliance is advancing its IFC standards work, based on modular structures and open interfaces, and it continues to add prominent new members. WestJet, for instance, appears to be the latest airline to join. But Anuvu and SpaceX remain notably absent from the roster. So too, perhaps, does Viasat’s name, though it effectively acquired membership through its Inmarsat buy, and Inmarsat is still listed as a member. RGN asked Pigott if Anuvu sees itself as benefiting from the fact that another prominent member of the IFC community, SpaceX, is going in a different direction and doing things its own way.
“We have, as a company, always seen ourselves as getting a value by separating ourselves from the pack by not doing things the standard way,” says Pigott. “So that’s why [we’re] maintaining Ku/Ka agnostic capabilities throughout all our hardware design.”
That’s also why Anuvu is “maintaining an evolutionary standard on the hardware”. For example, its new award-winning Dedicated Space modem technology, which uses proprietary software to dynamically distribute capacity based on need, is not about the band, it can be Ku or Ka.
“Without naming airline names,” says Pigott, “there are airlines out there that have gone through massive upheaval in connectivity going from service to system to system to system. The cost profile of that is just stunning and yet none of our customers had to do that. We’ve maintained a steady evolution and it’s been based on the fact that we always looked at…things as if we were in the shoes of the airline, what would we want. And we haven’t been perfect, we haven’t been perfect, we got a lot of stuff wrong, there’s no doubt we got a lot of stuff wrong and we’ve had to evolve on.”
But Anuvu’s big customers, Southwest and Norwegian, are happy to continue down the original path for retrofits, even as they upgrade with Dedicated Space. And the linefit install for them, again, is this pizza box/profile design, but with the adapter plate.
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