July 27, 2020

Members of NBAA’s Leadership Council received valuable insight about the adaptive present and rapidly evolving future of inflight connectivity during a July 23 webinar.

NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen opened the presentation by emphasizing the important role connectivity has played during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has elevated digital communication functions to the forefront of business aviation needs. Heidi Williams, NBAA director, air traffic services and infrastructure, moderated the webinar, and also discussed updates on proposed terrestrial 5G impacts on aviation.

“It’s exciting to be part of this transformation in connectivity, and see our industry marching forward,” said Bolen.

Panelists included:

  • Jim MacDougall, vice president of product management, Gogo Business Aviation
  • Jared Maynard, senior program manager, Satcom Direct
  • James Person, senior director of global business development, Viasat
  • Jerry Sanders, director, avionics program management and business development, StandardAero
  • Lupita Wilson, principal marketing manager, Collins Aerospace

Despite a steep initial drop in onboard data usage during the pandemic, panelists reported that the connectivity business has proven to be resilient and flexible. Maynard noted that the bounce back in data usage (up to 80% of typical numbers) has actually outpaced the recovery in flight operations (70%), indicating that passengers may be using internet functions more than before.

“Planning and installations have taken off as well, as some companies are using this opportunity to upgrade their aircraft’s connectivity,” said Person. He noted that safety restrictions have prompted innovations such as the use of augmented reality goggles to allow employees in training to observe installation and troubleshooting processes while maintaining social distancing.

Looking to the future of connectivity technology itself, panelists painted a picture of a quickly maturing industry that can offer substantial and sometimes brand new performance upgrades – but also presents buyers with complex challenges.

“If you look at recent satellite solution launches and high-speed services made available in the past couple years, these developments are going to enable global accessibility with more broadband speed,” said Wilson.

As examples of evolving market needs that are shaping product development, Sanders pointed to an increase in onboard personal streaming devices, the value of dual-band radomes – which enable specificity in how different frequencies can be used to meet passenger and crew needs – and predictive maintenance opportunities offered by enhancements in aircraft data generation and transmission.

One key challenge facing decision-makers is the difficulty of future-proofing an aircraft’s connectivity solution for both technological progress and for meeting regulatory mandates such as FANS 1/A.

“The complexity of installations is growing,” said MacDougall, noting that the industry is trending away from interconnection in favor of more standalone systems. “With limited real estate on an airplane to put satellites and units, how do we minimize the space we’re using so that customers can have more of a choice on what they install?”

NBAA’s Leadership Council supports the association’s mission to promote an environment that fosters business aviation in the U.S. and around the world. Learn more about the NBAA Leadership Council.