Wings Magazine

Features Operations
Avionics: Office in the Sky

Internet access is hot, but Canadian operators remain hesitant


October 1, 2007
By Talbot Boggs

Topics

Although generally lagging behind the US, executive aviation customers
in Canada are becoming increasingly interested in outfitting their
aircraft with ‘office in the sky’ capabilities such as internet access,
airborne television, faxes and printers, and the latest in audiovisual
systems and equipment.

Internet
access is perhaps the hottest item in cabin avionics today. “We are
getting more and more requests for the internet,” said Mike Shaw,
avionics manager of Innotech Execair. “People want to use their time as
productively as possible when they are in the air – something they
can’t do on a commercial airliner.”

Modification centres that do
installations of these sophisticated high-tech systems agree that
Canadian customers are interested but are lagging behind the US, mainly
because of the costs involved. To outfit a cabin with internet
connection, airborne TV, fax and photocopying capabilities, and the
latest in audiovisual systems and equipment can easily run to $1
million. These centres estimate there are perhaps only a handful of
business aircraft in Canada equipped with internet and only slightly
more with airborne TV.

“There’s a lot of want for these
products, but there’s a reluctance to spend several hundred thousand
dollars to get 128 kbps (kilobytes per second) internet connection,
which is not very fast for land but is fast for aviation,” said Bill
Arsenault, vice-president and general manager of Mid Canada Mod Centre.
“There would be a huge market at one-quarter of the price.”

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The
pioneer in this blossoming industry is Inmarsat, the global network
satellite owner and operator. Its Swift64 service can deliver in-flight
internet connection speeds up to 64 kbps for a single channel or 128
kbps when two channels are bonded together. Even higher speeds are
available using data compression techniques.

While not as fast
as what’s available on land, 128 kbps “is faster than dial-up service
and is respectable,” said Gary Nash, president of ABC Completions.
Swift64 handles typical web surfing and e-mail transfers. When the next
generation of satellites begins operating next year, they will be able
to offer connection speeds of 432 kbps.

Entry to the internet at
40,000 feet starts at about $150,000 for an onboard data terminal and
rises by a few hundred thousand dollars after adding associated
equipment such as an antenna, satcom transceiver, network file server,
router, wireless hub, data ports and more. User charges vary depending
on the internet service provider, but typically web surfing starts at
about $10 per minute.