SwiftBroadband-supported in-flight connectivity services are now alive and well on commercial narrowbody aircraft (as well as bizjets), so why is it taking longer to bring this higher bandwidth service to widebodies?
That's the question I recently posed to Inmarsat (foolishly thinking that the explanation would be a simple one). Here is company head of marketing for aeronautical services Lars Ringertz in his own words (because you can be damn sure I'm not going to try and explain it myself).
Just like Aircell or any of the Ku providers it's fully possible to supply a separate system and "just" get a supplemental type certificate (STC) and bolt the SwiftBroadband equipment onto any aircraft. (There are currently five manufacturers that have different combination of SwiftBroadband avionics type-approved by Inmarsat. In fact since October 2007 over 100 business aviation, government and airline aircraft are already flying with and using SwiftBroadband in daily operations).
Inmarsat is such an integral part of both long-haul aircraft systems and aviation operational and air traffic control communications and virtually all long-haul aircraft coming out of Airbus or Boeing come with the antenna and avionics required to use the Inmarsat services.
For the manufacturers delivering equipment to the airlines (from Honeywell, Rockwell Collins and Thales) it's a question of getting the specific equipment that they are supplying to Airbus and Boeing (normally an upgrade to the existing systems already being supplied) ready as "black label".
Then in order to be a "standard" part on the aircraft either as supplier furnished equipment (SFE) or buyer furnished equipment (BFE), Boeing and Airbus have to test and integrate them as a part of the TC on the aircraft.
This is an exercise coordinated with other changes you are making on the TC of the aircraft and normally adds months of engineering work test and certify the integration with the other systems of the aircraft. (Even if it is just a question of a software upgrade to a Swift 64 installation. Since this process simply takes time to go through the necessarily rigorous qualification and certification processes at Airbus and Boeing and their restricted engineering resources, this causes 'lag' that can be frustrating both for airlines and for us at Inmarsat.
For the last couple of years there has been loads of aircraft shipped with the provisions in place to use SwiftBroadband (777, A380, A340, A330 etc etc) , and the only thing we are waiting for is for Airbus and Boeing to flow through the upgrade for the airlines....
Frustrating for us; you bet!!!! But then as soon as they will have it they have one installation on the aircraft allowing them to do both Safety Services and Global Connectivity without having to put separate kit on the aircraft with the additional cost for equipment, drag and weight penalties you would get from adding a separate system.
Despite these challenges, Inmarsat is cooking with gas. "As Inmarsat, we are not as sexy as the new kids on the block; we are providing a service that is globally available today on different type of avionics and aircrafts to all airlines, no matter the size of their fleet. It's a lot more challenging and we're still in business (19 years in Aero) and we are maintaining our profitability," says Ringhertz.
Oh I don't know about that, Lars. I think you guys are pretty sexy!
(Pic above of SwiftBroadband coverage map)