Inflight connectivity isn’t just a “must-have” tool for passengers in the cabin of a business aircraft. It has become a necessity for safety-minded pilots and operators everywhere as the availability of inflight WiFi connectivity systems have become more advanced and less expensive with offerings that extend to even the smallest aircraft, including turboprops.
Gogo Business Aviation has long been at the forefront of aircraft WiFi’s development and growth. Its AVANCE connectivity platform offers a completely seamless system providing WiFi solutions everywhere on the aircraft, from the cabin to the flight deck.
“We launched AVANCE in 2017, and since that time, AVANCE has been the most successful broadband inflight connectivity system in business aviation history,” said Dave Mellin, director of communications of Gogo Business Aviation. “Today, we have approximately 3,400 aircraft flying with an AVANCE L3 or L5 installed, and we’ve surpassed 1.6 million flights with AVANCE onboard.”
Gogo also touts AVANCE as a stepping stone to its soon-to-be-launched 5G system, due for release in the fourth quarter of 2023, as well its upcoming global broadband system. (For more on Gogo 5G and its upcoming broadband platform, see the accompanying sidebar story.)
As an air-to-ground system, Gogo AVANCE offers connectivity all across the Continental U.S. into Canada, and it is also available in Alaska. The AVANCE systems provide the upgrade path to broadband connectivity when Gogo launches its new global service in 2024. Until then, AVANCE provides unparalleled connectivity benefits that pilots say have improved safety, especially when it comes to monitoring current weather conditions. Pilots and operators also rave about the ability WiFi-based AVANCE offers to communicate in real time via cell phone with important ground-based contacts.
For most business aviation pilots, Gogo’s AVANCE L3 platform offers the most benefits for the money.
“The AVANCE L3 system was designed to be smaller and lighter than the L5 system, so it has been very popular with smaller aircraft operators,” Mellin said. “Two years ago, we announced that the L3 would be a line-fit option from the factory on the Cirrus Vision Jet, the first GA aircraft to add broadband connectivity as a factory option. It’s been a big success and dozens of Vision Jets have the system onboard today, and we expect that other GA aircraft will be adding connectivity in the future.”
In another major plus for users, in the summer of 2020 Gogo lowered the service level for AVANCE from 10,000 to 3,000 feet, which made the service more useful for smaller aircraft flying shorter missions, and gave the system’s already tremendous popularity a huge boost.
Connectivity Safety Benefits
But don’t just take Gogo’s word for it. Professional pilots and business aviation enthusiasts rave about the safety benefits AVANCE offers.
“The most noteworthy benefit that I see from inflight connectivity is the ability to obtain updated weather reports and forecasts during flight,” said Jeff Poeppelman, who is chief pilot at a Midwest-based Fortune 100 company. “The applications and inflight connectivity improve our pilot’s weather avoidance decision-making. We’ve seen a direct improvement in both customer service and safety due to connectivity.”
Poeppelman flies the company’s Challenger 650 business aircraft with the Gogo AVANCE L5 system. “Our company uses aircraft as business tools to maximize productivity and efficiency, and our passengers rely on connectivity to maintain the highest level of productivity while traveling. While inflight, our passengers routinely collaborate with colleagues on the ground – but have also connected with business partners on our other airborne aircraft.”
For Joey Meier, who is director of operations and chief pilot for JRM Air, monitoring weather and being able to connect to anyone needed on the ground are two huge benefits of AVANCE WiFi connectivity. JRM is a private company based in Mooresville, NC, which manages the travel requirements for NASCAR racer Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his family and his various business interests and sponsorships.
Meier flies a 2019 Falcon 2000LXS Plus business aircraft. As an example of how WiFi connectivity has improved inflight safety and improved overall performance, he points to an experience where being able to connect via cell en route has helped him complete missions where he might have had to turn back.
“We were in Las Vegas and were flying home to Statesville,” Meier said. “North Carolina was in the middle of a pretty major snowstorm.”
Statesville Regional Airport (SVH) is a non-towered community airport. Given that and the demands on the city and county to clear roadways of snow, the airport is a second priority for snow removal, according to Meier.
“The FBO is closed late at night,” he said. “So, I called the guy who is plowing the runway. I had his cell phone number. I asked what his schedule was for clearing the runway. He said, ‘I’m doing this and that.’ I told him that if he cleared the runway and gave me a decent path, we would continue the flight home. He said that shouldn’t be a problem but asked me to call him ahead of time.”
Meier and company took off for the trip back home. About an hour later he called the snowplow guy from the flight deck to see if the runway would be cleared when they arrive.
“He said, ‘I’m clearing your runway, it’s in good shape right now, you should have no problem,’” Meier said. “We kept going, and about 30 minutes away before we started a descent we called and he said the runway was in good shape.”
He even cleared a track to the hangar so Meier could easily taxi in once he landed. “We were the only plane out of eight or 10 that completed that mission because we were the only ones who had the phone number of the guy cleaning the runway,” said Meier.
Being able to connect directly to important ground contacts also has come in handy for Marc Dulude, a long-time pilot who flies a CJ3+ privately for business.
“Sometimes things happen in the air,” Dulude said. “In my particular case the autopilot went out at 45,000 feet. So, I’m hand-flying the airplane now.”
Dulude ended up flying without autopilot for 1-1/2 hours.
“During all of that time I was texting and talking with ground support people to try and diagnose what had happened and see if I could get my autopilot back on,” he said. “I just took advantage of having inflight connectivity and being able to reach out to the technical experts on the ground. I told them, ‘I’ve gone through the checklist, and it’s not producing the results, do you have any ideas for me?’ They offered up some ideas, and I did get the [crew alert system] message and information on the problem to clear. All this was only possible because of Gogo’s inflight connectivity.”
Gogo’s AVANCE 5G Platform and Global Broadband LEO System Soon to Launch
Gogo Business Aviation continues to innovate and improve its AVANCE program to keep up with the increasing needs of business aviation users. First up is Gogo’s long-awaited 5G system, which is due to launch later this year. After some delays, the 5G system with 150 towers already is in place. But issues with the chipset to power the platform have caused a delay.
“The 5G chipset we need to enable 5G connectivity hit a snag last year in testing, and they had to go back and redesign the chip,” said Dave Mellin, director of communications for Gogo. “That design issue was corrected and the chip is in fabrication now, and we expect to receive it mid-2023 at which point we’ll install it and begin testing.”
Gogo plans to launch the system in full in the fourth quarter of 2023.
“The 5G nationwide network was completed last year, so that’s ready to go, and we’re going to begin to expand our 5G network into Canada later this year as well,” Mellin said. “So, we’re progressing across all aspects of the service, and we’re on track to launch later this year.”
Dealers already have placed orders for the 5G system and are installing the full 5G provisions today. Gogo also has published an installation manual enabling dealers and MROs to effectively manage installs.
Gogo’s forthcoming global satellite broadband service, via the OneWeb low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation is nearing completion. While the war in Ukraine interrupted the final satellite launch and system deployment, Gogo now expects to launch its global broadband system in the third quarter of 2024.
Meanwhile, outfitting for the system should be fairly easy for installers.
“Installing just one LRU and the electronically steerable antenna (ESA) will enable broadband connectivity on any business aircraft,” said Mellin. “Midsize and smaller aircraft that operate outside North America have no broadband options today. The traditional satellite systems are much too big and heavy for a smaller aircraft operator to add to their aircraft. However, Gogo’s global LEO system will now fit on large turboprops and super-light jets, making connectivity a reality on those aircraft, regardless of where they fly in the world. And Gogo’s system will be much more affordable.”
Gogo’s LEO global broadband system will be the first complete, LEO global broadband experience designed specifically for business aviation by business aviation experts. It will make its AVANCE L3 and L5 platforms available to any user anywhere in the world.