Honeywell this quarter will launch a pilot programme to offer tracking and messaging services to helicopter operators through its Global Data Center (GDC) in Redmond, Washington using the on board Sky Connect Tracker product. The GDC today caters to business aviation operators, providing flight following and various other flight handling services.
Sky Connect Tracker provides a variety of levels of tracking, messaging and voice services to operators through the Iridium satellite constellation. Honeywell, which obtained Sky Connect through its acquisition of EMS Technologies in 2011, has supplemental type certificates (STCs) for two existing versions of the Tracker and is in the process of obtaining an STC for a third (Tracker III) in the second quarter. Approximately 400 operators use the Sky Connect Tracker service on more than 5,000 aircraft, primarily helicopters.
Users pay between $8,000 - $15,000 for the airborne equipment, not including installation, then monthly and per-message fees, says Jeff Kauffman, Sky Connect product line manager. He says all major operators in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) are equipped.
While the FAA's automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) system is operational in the GOM, ADS-B does not typically provide tracking data below 1,500ft (457m) for equipped operators due to a limited number of transceivers on platforms. "All the customers see ADS-B as a way to get higher resolution data, but there's still a need for tracking at low altitudes," says Kauffman.
With Sky Connect, operators can select a tracking rate as fast as 15 seconds or as infrequent as hours. In a demonstration flight in Honeywell's Sky Connect Tracker-equipped AS350 helicopter in Dallas on 11 February, Kauffman had set the system to provide updates every five minutes when the helicopter was not moving; every two minutes during flight, and every one minute when in flight below 1,500ft. Each update included GPS position data at 15 second intervals throughout the sample period. A plot of our flight on 11 February is below (track in red).
While major operators tend to have their own operations centres, Kauffman said smaller operators will typically not have the resources to do so, prompting the idea for the pilot programme. Honeywell plans to equip its AS350 as well as its Convair 580 and King Air flight test aircraft for the project. Kauffman says one fixed wing operator using the GDC for fixed wing services is also interested in participating in the programme, slated to start in March.