UK carrier plans to offer in-flight communication as bonus from weather data installation
UK regional operator Flybe is planning to offer in-flight mobile communications as a fringe benefit from a satellite communication (satcom) installation intended to provide live weather data to the aircraft.
The satcom system also has the potential to provide volcanic ash warnings to the flightdeck through a separate initiative Flybe is conducting with the UK's Cambridge University.
The carrier is funding the satcom avionics fit by partnering with US weather data specialist AirDat, which procures the equipment expected to be installed on Flybe's fleet.
Flybe UK managing director Andrew Strong, speaking at an Embraer event in Palma de Mallorca, said the installation would focus initially on the carrier's new Embraer 175s and its 195s, because of the jets' longer sector advantage.
"It is cheaper to acquire the hardware and install it on an airline than use weather balloons," said Strong. In return, Flybe gains operational control communications capabilities - for which the expenditure would otherwise be prohibitive - as well as enough satcom bandwidth to offer limited email and text air-ground communication to passengers. However, Strong said the carrier still has "to work out" if this service will be offered free or whether it could generate revenue for the airline.
Cambridge University is also developing a particulate matter sensor, which could provide Flybe with up-to-date volcanic ash information.
"Couple satcom with the detector and you can start providing some very interesting data," Strong said. He added that the idea is still in the "test-bed phase", and an aviation proof-of-concept could be ready within nine months. The system features a detector about the size of a coin mounted on the airframe, and differs from EasyJet's ash-detection development.
"We believe the market is vast and may not be limited to E-Jets," Strong said. Flybe expects to fit the satcom equipment from early next year, with 20 aircraft fitted by April 2012.
The system could also offer ash-detection capabilities
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