Further delay to Row 44 approval could hurt partner

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Antenna maker AeroSat has warned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its financial health will deteriorate if the agency continues to delay granting a key approval to its partner, in-flight Internet provider Row 44.

Certain parts of Row 44's application to the FCC for permanent authority to operate an aeronautical mobile-satellite service (AMSS) in the conventional Ku-band segment are under dispute by the company's competitors.

ViaSat and others want Row 44 to work with them to design one or more "mutually-acceptable" ground-based tests to evaluate the capabilities of the system and ensure the protection of satellite communications from interference.

But AeroSat, which invested millions of dollars in the development of technology to support Row 44's system, including the radome, antenna and other associated hardware, says additional ground-testing is not necessary, and will hurt its own operations.

"As a small business, we ask the commission to appreciate that in the current financial climate, additional delay will severely degrade our financial health and place at risk the likely long-term benefits to the aviation industry of a next-generation airborne Internet capability," says AeroSat CEO Michael Barrett in a letter to the FCC.

He says the Row 44 system has already undergone extensive testing, the results of which "demonstrate that the system can be successfully operated without interference to satellite communications in the band".

Additional hurdles and ground test requirements "would only serve to hinder this project", says Barrett, who suggests that Row 44's pending request for special temporary authority (STA) should at least be granted in the near-term.

For its part, Row 44 says it is willing to do more testing, but wants it to be airborne testing. It has submitted a plan to the FCC that calls for the firm to share with geostationary operators data derived from in-flight tests.

In a filing to the FCC, the company vows to "notify all users of it in-flight broadband capability that the service is being offered on a trial basis, and that final FCC approval to operate on a permanent basis has not yet been obtained".

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 has already been outfitted with the Row 44 system in preparation for commercial trials, which have been delayed a number of times. The carrier says it has been doing its own internal testing of the system.