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United Begins SB-S Satcom Evaluation

Assessment will be conducted on North Atlantic routes.

United Airlines has begun conducting a service evaluation of Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadband-Safety (SB-S) flight-deck communications platform on a Boeing 767 operating transatlantic commercial services.

Inmarsat’s Nov. 16 announcement of the United service evaluation ends months of speculation regarding the identity of the airline with which the satcom-network operator was negotiating to conduct the evaluation on commercial flights operating in highly congested North Atlantic airspace.

The carrier has installed Cobham SATCOM’s AVIATOR 300D satellite communications equipment in the 767 to enable the aircraft to make use of Inmarsat’s SB-S connectivity for air traffic management surveillance and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications between pilots and controllers, as well as for airline operational control (AOC) functions.

In addition to offering improved delay management and scheduling, SB-S-enabled AOC functions will allow the United 767 to transmit aircraft health and performance data to the ground in real time, making predictive maintenance easier and turnarounds faster, according to Inmarsat.

“We look forward to seeing improved operational efficiencies with a fully connected flight deck, using the platform for improved communications and real-time updates that previously had to be done on the ground,” says Chuck Stewart, United Airlines' chief technical pilot for communications.

For its North Atlantic commercial-service evaluation of SB-S, United has equipped the 767 with Controller-Pilot Data Link Communications (CPDLC) and Automatic Dependent Surveillance Contract (ADS-C) messaging.

Flight-deck AOC satcom functions have traditionally been provided by simple, analog Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) text messages over Inmarsat's Classic Aero narrowband satcom voice and data safety service, which Inmarsat says is installed in about 95 percent of all widebody aircraft now flying.

However, according to Inmarsat, its SB-S satcom platform's broadband capabilities will soon allow for a vast expansion of Internet Protocol-based AOC applications, allowing airlines to further optimize their flight-operations and fleet-management functions in real time.

Inmarsat says that, in addition to today’s cockpit-satcom capabilities, SB-S introduces new, always-on, always-secure applications, all of which will be available for United Airlines’ use during its service evaluation on North Atlantic commercial flights.

These applications include providing continual positional awareness for flight tracking; flight-data streaming (including streaming of real-time data from the aircraft to the airline, should the aircraft get into distress, via the so-called 'Black Box in the Cloud' functionality); and real-time electronic flight bag applications such as displaying networked graphical weather.

Other capabilities SB-S allows include improved operational efficiency in the form of more fuel-efficient routings (via dynamic airborne reroute procedure functionality), user-preferred routing, tailored arrivals, and in-trail climb and climb/descend procedures, according to Inmarsat.

Hawaiian Airlines trialled SB-S in Pacific oceanic airspace from 2014 to 2015. According to Inmarsat, the carrier's pilots reported that the new system’s satellite VoIP voice-communication capability provided a key benefit, as it allowed them to have conversations with air traffic controllers that were as clear and delay-free as talking on the phone.

Cobham's AVIATOR 300D system incorporates the company's compact, lightweight IGA-5001 Intermediate Gain Antenna, which it says offers a low profile on the fuselage.

According to Cobham, a further advantage of its AVIATOR satcom systems is that they provide recurrent maintenance savings because of the high reliability of the underlying technology platform and because they offer weight savings (approximately 50lb to 150 lb) over traditional aviation satcom systems.

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