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IMS EMEA Newsletter Issue 3 - July 2010

 

Satellite services a rising star

 

Vol3-9When it comes to satellite communications for aviation, few providers are as experienced as ARINC. The company was in at the beginning of the pioneering Inmarsat aeronautical service in the early 1990s – twenty years later it’s active in two more satellite markets and enjoys an unrivalled reputation for focusing on its customers and retaining their loyalty.

Earlier this year the ARINC satellite services team received the green light to raise its game another notch when Inmarsat named the company as a Distribution Partner for the SwiftBroadband 432kbit/sec service. “Before that we were a Service Provider, operating through third-party networks,” explains Colette Parks, business director for satellite solutions in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) division. “Now we have our own infrastructure, there’s no middleman and we’re free to put into place the smarts needed to further differentiate our services.”

ARINC’s Inmarsat menu features the whole range of links supported by the satellite operator’s geostationary L-band constellation – the original Classic Aero services operating at up to 10.5kbit/sec, the 64kbit/sec Swift 64, and SwiftBroadband.

The Inmarsat customer community in EMEA alone totals more than 40 air transport and government/military operators. The airlines include leading carriers like Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Iberia and SAS. Among the applications on offer are pre-paid calling cards, telemedicine, live text news (Virgin Atlantic), seatback messaging (Emirates, Virgin, Iberia), and the Oi onboard Internet graphic user interface. Government business comes from Britain’s Royal Air Force, the Belgian military, the Swedish Coast Guard and others.

“There is still plenty of potential for us in the EMEA government/military market,” Parks comments. “We’re continuing to refine the way we approach these operators and think we hold a trump card in ARINC Direct, our package of flight support and communications services for business aviation. Working as they do with owner-operators and corporate flight departments, the ARINC Direct team have all the skills needed to serve the comparatively small fleets typical of coastguards and other government arms.”

ARINC is one of the leaders in the move to introduce Iridium to air transport. The US-based satellite operator already has thousands of customers in business and general aviation and is now expanding its offer to the airlines. “In EMEA we have a couple of airline customers for our Iridium-based services,” says Gary Anderson, director of business development for the company’s satellite, VHF and HF solutions in the region. “Royal Air Maroc and Cargolux are using this low-cost retrofit capability on the flight deck, supplementing and sometimes replacing their VHF datalink for an emerging range of applications designed to increase operational efficiency.”

Iridium is also in the process of winning international approval so that its system can be used to support safety services – air traffic control. Anderson believes this could help to broaden adoption of Iridium by the airlines: “As part of its plan for a new air traffic management system from 2020 Europe will mandate the fitting of a new VHF datalink in aircraft operating into the continent’s airspace. Aircraft already fitted with Iridium for safety services over the Atlantic will be exempted – that will give operators an extra incentive to equip.”

The cabin is another potential arena for Iridium-based services. “Our Inmarsat passenger applications are portable to Iridium,” says Parks. “It would be perfect for live text news, for example. And we’re currently supporting a trial by an Asian carrier of live credit-card validation over Iridium. Being able to ensure in real time that cards offered in payment are valid is seen as one of the keys to opening up revenue-generating in-flight transactions.”

There are similarly high hopes for the recently announced 128kbit/sec capability that Iridium is developing. “When we get that level of connectivity we will be ready with a large portfolio of air-to-ground applications that could make use of the bigger pipe,” says Anderson. “We’re all for anything that boosts bandwidth so that we can do an even better job of giving our customers what they need.”

ARINC’s attitude to applications is one of the cornerstones of its success with customers, Anderson maintains: “Our ability to put packages of applications and services together is unique in the industry. Every airline is different, with different requirements, so the cookie-cutter approach is out. I don’t think we’ll ever apply the same set of solutions to two different airlines.”

Applications development benefits from ARINC’s own stat-eof- the-art data centre in Annapolis, Maryland, along with a direct line to Inmarsat’s connectivity expertise. “The data centre supports compression, acceleration and other techniques that allow us to really mould the applications,” says Parks. “And our Distribution Partner relationship with Inmarsat gives us ready access so we can thoroughly wring them out over the satellite link.”

The other major advantage of ARINC’s new status with Inmarsat is financial. “Now that we no longer have to go through an intermediate supplier our pricing can be even more competitive,” says Parks. “And we’re better able to provide more cost-effective value-adds.”

It’s vital that suppliers recognise the airlines’ need for the most economical solution, according to ARINC EMEA’s two satellite specialists.

“Many of the carriers we deal with have large legacy fits of Inmarsat Classic Aero equipment,” Parks points out. “We certainly don’t tell them they have to upgrade to SwiftBroadband to get the full benefit of what we offer.

Instead we tailor our applications to the available bandwidth, whatever it may be. We adapt to them rather than making them adapt to us.”

Legacy equipment presents a second challenge, according to Anderson. “Many airlines don’t have the money to bring their older aircraft up to the same level of connectivity as the new ones entering the fleet. At the same time, they can’t promote the newest capability if it means that a lot of passengers will be disappointed when they board the older aircraft. We can help them do more with got they’ve got and provide a consistent, across-the-fleet experience that can be safely promoted.”

Airline connectivity specialists also often need a hand with the business case that they must make to their managers – ARINC is there to help. Says Anderson: “We try very hard to understand the airlines’ own businesses, how they market themselves, so that we can devise and offer services that make hard financial sense for them.”

With three satellite technologies already under its belt, ARINC could soon be absorbing at least one more as the pursuit of ever more bandwidth continues. Inmarsat is studying a possible expansion into the Ka-band, while two providers – Panasonic and Row 44 – are on the brink of commercial launches. “We’re working closely with Inmarsat and the Ku-band ventures to see where we might be able to fit in. In our time as a satellite service provider we have always striven to stay abreast of the latest technical possibilities.”

As they ponder the new technologies on offer, ARINC EMEA’s satellite team will be aware that, whatever they do next, they have a proud record to maintain. “In this region we have never failed to renew a contract with an existing satcoms customer,” says Parks. “Once customers have been with us for a while they see the benefits of working with us and keep coming back for more.”

 

 

IMS EMEA Newsletters 

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Vol3-1smallClearing the air

During the recent volcanic disruption air transport in Europe was paralysed by motes of dust, billion on billion of them.

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