Rockwell Collins has launched an initiative to provide "information access" for business and regional aircraft. Under the name eFlight, the company is to introduce a range of products and services exploiting existing and planned communications links to provide "global connectivity" to the flightdeck and cabin.

As a first step, the company has teamed with Universal Weather to provide flight planning, trip status and textual and graphical weather services to aircraft. These flightdeck services will be rolled out in mid-2002 with certification of the Bombardier Continental business jet, equipped with Collins' Pro Line 21 integrated avionics. Cabin services, including high- speed e-mail and internet access, will follow.

"EFlight is not a product, it is an initiative in Rockwell Collins to aggregate several products and services within the company and package them to ensure improved value for the customer," says Phil Barnes, director advanced technology. Elements of eFlight include an onboard file-server and a high-speed data service using satellite communications (satcom).


"There will be a phased implementation so that we do not get out ahead of the communications infrastructure," Barnes says. "We will ensure products and services are upgradeable and can be integrated with broadband connectivity when it becomes available." Operators will pay a monthly fee to access services provided under eFlight.

The next step will come in 2003, with the fielding of Collins' Pro Line 21 Continuum avionics for business jet upgrades. Continuum introduces large cockpit displays capable of presenting graphical maps and approach plates. The system also includes a file server that is partitioned to allow flightdeck functions to run alongside less-critical cabin functions, says Barnes.

The system is designed to be "link agnostic", says Barnes, working with existing 9.6kbit/s air-ground telephones, the 14.4kbit/s Aircell airborne cellular system and the 31.5kbit/s VHF datalink Mode 2, scheduled to become available late next year. Around that time, 64kbit/s connectivity will become available for Collins' SAT-906 satcom system, with the addition of a high-speed transceiver allowing use of Inmarsat's Switch64 service.

The third phase of Collins' eFlight roll-out will be its forward-fit installation in new aircraft, set to begin in 2004. Growth to true broadband connectivity - greater than 1Mbit/s, says Barnes - will come later.

In another development, airborne file server specialist Pentar Avionics has teamed with satcom system supplier EMSTechnologies to develop JetLAN SatLink, a satellite-based cabin network that will provide data speeds from 64kbit/s to 128kbit/s using two independent channels.

Source: Flight International