Airbus A350 Airspace Explorer testbed aircraft parked at the Airbus facility in Toulouse, waiting for journalists to board

Airbus lays out ultimate vision for connected aircraft


As Airbus pursues its new linefit supplier-furnished Airspace Link HBCplus inflight connectivity program with gusto, it is working to ensure the connected jetliners it delivers to airlines become a true node on their networks, driving operational benefits and improving the passenger experience.

During the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Airbus executives shared the airframer’s “ultimate vision” for connected aircraft with Runway Girl Network, noting that it’s already putting many of the requisite building blocks in place today to support this vision.

“So the idea is to leverage the competency that we have in the group around cybersecurity, aircraft integration and space in order to provide our customers… with an aircraft that doesn’t just fly, but which is applying digital,” said Airbus head of connected aircraft marketing Mehdi El Kouch.

“And in the vision this should be an extension of our customers’ ecosystem where all the data flows seamlessly between what happens in the cabin, between the operation, ATC system and the third parties.”

He continued:

We want to design the biggest App Store in the air where an airline could choose any apps for operations or passenger experience without the need for additional certification.

Airlines will be able to develop their own apps, but we also want to bring on board all the digital innovators, all the startups with fancy new ideas, new service. We want to help them to bring their services, and same for the digital majors. So, Netflix, Amazon.

In the end, in our vision, the aircraft becomes an end-to-end digital platform where all the data points are connected together from maintenance to catering to eventually the ATC.

By leveraging the right applications and services, airlines can turn this data into actionable insights, becoming what El Kouch referred to as “an AI driven company” that can make the best decisions for operations and the passenger experience, whilst at the same time “driving costs down, improving loyalty and boosting ancillary revenues”.


HBCplus is a “key enabler” to this vision, he said. Under the linefit broadband IFC program, Airbus provides the connectivity hardware and related services, and effectively considers the certified terminal and radome to be part of the aircraft. Participating airlines can switch bandwidth suppliers — called managed service providers (MSPs) — without changing the linefit (or approved retrofit package for) IFC hardware on their aircraft.

Operators can adopt Ka-band satellite-powered IFC, with deliveries starting this year, or Ku-band IFC with deliveries starting in 2026.

Safran Passenger Innovations is providing the Ka- and Ku terminals to Airbus for the program, with the former based on ThinKom Solutions’ Ka2517 VICTS hardware and the latter based on Thales/Get SAT’s dual-beam electronically steerable antenna (ESA). The Ku ESA features a few more components than the program’s VICTS-based Ka-band terminal, including notably a 5G solution that will ensure gate-to-gate connectivity can be accommodated even if the Ku ESA overheats on the ground in very hot weather.

Ka-band MSPs include Viasat, SES’s MEO/GEO multi-orbit service and — under a new MOU — Hughes Network Systems. Thus far, Airbus has selected two MSPs for the Ku-band side: Intelsat (which is being acquired by SES) and Panasonic Avionics. And to date, the airframer has announced Ka-band HBCplus deals with several airlines.

Launch customer Emirates, plus Air Algerie, Air India, Ethiopian Airlines, and Philippine Airlines will use Viasat as their MSP, whilst an as yet undisclosed single-aisle customer has selected SES as MSP.

Screen shot of the Airbus presentation about HBCplus at AIX 2024, with new customers revealed.“With HBCplus,” said El Kouch, “what we want to do at Airbus is to elevate the passenger experience and make fast and reliable Internet access a reality for every step of the passenger journey. But today we know the experience we have in-flight is not the same that we have on the ground… and moreover, the current offers available in the market do not offer the flexibility to benefit from the new [satellite] constellations that may provide the connectivity service that is more relevant for the airline route operated.

“On the contrary, [at present] it’s very difficult for the customer to change its service provider because it’s usually quite costly and quite risky. And this is where HBCplus comes into place, with a solution that is open and flexible to operate with different service providers like your phone. So today with your smartphone, you don’t have to change your phone to change your service provider. So that’s exactly the same concept that we applied to inflight connectivity.”

Whether an airline selects Ka- or Ku-band IFC under HBCplus, the broadband pipe works hand in glove with other onboard hardware to drive ops benefits and in turn bolster PaxEx.

For example, by harnessing Airbus’ Flight Operations and Maintenance Exchanger (FOMAX) data router, which captures real-time aircraft parameters, together with the airframer’s Skywise digital tools, airlines can avail of aircraft health monitoring and predictive maintenance, ensuring they can make “accurate and fast decisions” about the dispatch of their fleets, reduce unscheduled events and improve turnaround times, said El Kouch. Data can be transmitted either using the satcom connection, or indeed the 4G/5G link when aircraft are on the ground.

Leveraging data, pilots are also better informed, with the Airbus executive describing a scenario whereby Airbus’ NavBlue applications for pilot electronic flight bags (EFB) can display “the accurate position of the aircraft” on the EFB map “so that gives an enhanced situational awareness for the pilots”.

“Another example,” he said, “is that we can use the connectivity to actually get live updates of the weather forecast, of the flight briefing updates and that gives the crew as well situational awareness, reduces workload, so there’s less risk of errors because of manual entry.”

BFE still on offer, for now

Though it favors its new supplier-furnished HBCplus catalog, Airbus will retain — but does not plan to update — its current buyer furnished equipment (BFE) catalog for inflight connectivity.

The BFE catalog features Panasonic Avionics’ Ku-band satellite-focused IFC with a traditional gimbaled antenna, Intelsat 2Ku based on ThinKim’s Ku3030 VICTS antenna, and Viasat Ka-band (both its high-capacity Ka offering on the A320 and A330, and the Global Xpress solution it acquired with its Inmarsat buy across all types including the A350). These solutions continue to roll off the line under BFE arrangements. For example Panasonic counts Croatia Airlines as a new linefit customer on the A220; Intelsat recently won Condor as a new linefit customer for 2Ku on A320/A321neos; and Korean Air is taking GX on its new A321neos.

Asked by RGN how long Airbus will retain the BFE program, Airbus connected aircraft exec Don-Jacques Ould-Ferhat said: “I mean as long as our customers are asking for it, we will keep it alive. But our vision is that we will neither update [nor] upgrade the BFE program. Our strategy is go SFE with this new technology.”

The airframer did make a ‘one-time’ exception, however, when it recently agreed to supply an airline, as BFE, the Safran Passenger Innovations (SPI) Ka-band terminal being used for HBCplus, which is based on ThinKom’s Ka2517 VICTS antenna, as reported by RGN.

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Featured image credited to Mary Kirby