Dubai 2007: ARINC considers in-flight broadband for airlines

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Aviation communications and IT provider ARINC (W416) is thinking of joining the growing dogfight over the airline passenger broadband connectivity, says chief executive John Belcher.

“We’re looking at the possibility of extending our SKYLink Ku-band satellite for business aviation into the air transport sector,” he said. “We’ve got the technical capability but we’re still thinking about the business case.”

In the meantime, the Maryland-based company is putting the finishing touches to a partnership agreement with Rockwell Collins under which the avionics manufacturer will provide a new package of onboard equipment while ARINC acts as the service provider.

“It’s a matter of the two companies playing to their respective strengths,” said Belcher. “We’re going to work together to make a better job of marketing the service to business aviation and getting systems on to the aircraft and supporting them there.”

Belcher expects the deal to be done within the next four weeks. “I can’t say much yet about the equipment package – there are a number of avionics suppliers involved,” he says. “But we’re working with a European company that will give us an even better antenna capable of delivering 10Mbit/sec to the aircraft. And it’s compact enough to be installed in business jets below the top end.”

ARINC has also been involved in L-band satcoms for many years and is looking forward to the introduction of the Inmarsat-supported onboard cellphone service of its AeroMobile subsidiary. The ARINC/Telenor joint venture now hopes to start rolling out the service across the fleet of launch customer Emirates before the end of the year.

“The technical issues are all settled but we’re still working with CAAs for final airworthiness approval, and that’s a long process,” Belcher explained. “We also need cellular roaming agreements - Telenor is working on that – and approvals from national telecoms authorities. We still need some key national clearances – that’s what is really slowing us down.”

ARINC’s third satcoms offering is the global voice and low-rate data capability delivered by the low-Earth-orbit Iridium system. “We’ve recently seen a surge in airline interest,” Belcher said. “People are starting to realise it can provide good communications and is cheap – the airlines are catching on.”

Besides the Emirates cellphone service, ARINC’s interests in the Gulf include airport systems – the company won Dubai Terminal 3 in 2003 and went on to land Cairo and Doha – and turnkey operation and maintenance of the Saudi C-130 Hercules military transport fleet. “We’re thinking of setting up a centre capable of offering a similar service for the support of transport aircraft to other militaries in the region,” said Belcher.