AirCell’s Axxess system was recently certified and is an all-new, multi-channel, wireless and broadband-ready satcom system designed for medium-to-large business aircraft. The standard Axxess system includes two Iridium satellite communications channels for quality voice and narrowband data services. Through its integrated expansion ports, up to two additional Iridium channels can be added to suit the operator’s needs. In addition, through the system’s Ethernet port, operators can add an Inmarsat broadband connection on a plug-and-play basis. The company has also recently won an FCC auction giving AirCell its own broadband network throughout the United States.
Plans are underway to implement the means of bringing high-speed data transfer capabilities to the service subscribers and current predictions will have this accomplished sometime in 2007. Another achievement of Axxess is the cabin WiFi capability. Although certification for this part of the system is expected around the third quarter of 2006, the hardware is currently being installed with new systems. The plan is that when certification is granted, several appropriate key strokes on a laptop plugged into the system’s maintenance ports will enable the wireless functions. Up to eight devices can be accommodated including WiFi compliant handsets, PDAs, and laptops.
As was mentioned earlier, data speeds with Iridium are at this time very low. This makes “surfing the net” a very trying event. Even sending an email can take considerably more time than most computer savvy executives are used to, so if data communication is a high priority, Iridium alone, at this time, is probably not the best solution.
It should also be noted that the Iridium satellite constellation has its own country code, which makes calls into this network subject to international long-distance charges. Some service providers will supply local access numbers so calls from the ground are significantly less costly.
The equipment installed in the aircraft will vary depending on which system is selected. As the Inmarsat system uses far fewer satellites than Iridium, the externally mounted antenna has to be steered toward the applicable satellite. This requires computations that are based on present aircraft position and attitude as well as a program that knows precise satellite positions. In addition a gimbaled and motor-driven antenna base is frequently used. As Iridium or Globalstar use a satellite blanket, antenna steering is not needed.
Selection of an appropriate electrical power source is a decision that could have career altering implications. In the event an electrical distribution bus is selected that might be automatically terminated as a result of some standard operating procedure such as engine shutdown, it could leave the CEO, who at that moment was about to close a multimillion dollar deal, disconnected. In most cases, scheduled maintenance is all but non-existent. In the case of wireless devices that remain within the aircraft, it is important to verify the condition of internal batteries.
Some types of wireless phones are automatically switched on when aircraft power is applied but unfortunately need to be individually turned off. This can be a dilemma unless care is taken and phones are removed from the aircraft charging cradle during times when power may be required for maintenance or cleaning operations. One thing that can cause erratic or poor system operation irregardless of the type equipment is improper equipment bonding.
I guess the days of having some time to yourself when flying are about to come to an end and with newer technology the company aircraft will truly be an office in the sky.
Well, I think I am going to select the On Full Force (OFF) switch on both my phones for the rest of the day. How does the television commercial go? “Can you hear me now?”