Airborne Wireless Broadband Communications

Airborne Wireless Broadband Communications

Flightcell International is seeing two significant trends emerging for rotorcraft communications: (1) commercial operators want to connect their smart devices and use them like they do on the ground and (2) they want to send operational data off the aircraft.

Connecting smart devices wirelessly to onboard equipment is achieved using either WiFi or Bluetooth with the intention of accessing the internet or sending and receiving files, text messages and emails. The limiting factor, as always, is the air to ground communications link. Unless the aircraft has wideband satellite equipment, which has very high CAPEX and OPEX, narrowband satellite communications options won’t have the bandwidth to extend and imitate ground bases services. However, cellular broadband data is the ideal solution when operating in range of cellular networks. In our experience operators spend on average 75% – 90% of the time in range of cellular networks and high-gain antennas mounted underneath the aircraft provide enhanced reception – when compared to the reception from smart devices enclosed within the airframe.

Another benefit of cellular broadband data is it’s an enabler for cheap and accurate GPS tracking. With just a regular cellular data plan and tracking information sent over the Internet, 15 second position reporting is achieved at a fraction of the cost of satellite tracking. It is now possible to switch tracking automatically between satellite and cellular networks, thereby achieving 100% tracking coverage by the most efficient means possible.

For some time now, flight and location data has been sent off the aircraft and recorded, to track assets and to enhance safety. However now there is a real focus on sending additional data that helps business and the bottom-line. For example, firefighting operations want to measure the amount of water uplifted, where it was sourced and where it was dropped and agriculture operations want to measure fertiliser load weights and send them back to base. Apart from the obvious safety benefits, organisations are experiencing reduced pilot workload and receiving actionable operational intelligence. For maintenance purposes engine, cycle count and exceedance data is transmitted to maintenance organisations, providing a proactive approach to servicing.

It’s exciting times for airborne wireless communications and you can bet we will be working hard to allow you to communicate faster and smarter from the air.

About Flightcell International Ltd

Flightcell International is a global producer of airborne integrated-mobile communications, providing satellite and cellular data, voice and tracking to over 3500 commercial and military aircraft worldwide. Flightcell are the innovators and manufacturers of Flightcell DZMx, the world’s only all-in-one Iridium and cellular solution for voice, data, and aircraft tracking.

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Author: James Mace, Vice President, Flightcell International

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