The Dawn of a New Day for Rotorcraft Connectivity
An ongoing complaint from the helicopter community is the lack of suitable connectivity solutions. That’s a fact. The problem has to do with the way satellite technologies are architected, the unique nature of rotary-wing aircraft, and the physics of rotating blades. Since you can’t take the rotor out of the rotorcraft, many operators have been stuck with partial performance and relatively few choices. For Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SB) users wanting to recover some of the traditional performance loss, the only option has been HDR (High Data Rate) – a special class of SB service from Inmarsat. HDR indeed helps address the inherent connectivity issue, but it’s a costly service with limited flexibility and fewer available hardware options. But now there’s another option. With the recent debut of a new service called SB-Helo X-Stream, the age-old problem of rotor shadowing has finally been solved – once and for all. In this whitepaper, we take an educational look at the state of the art in helicopter connectivity, where the market has been, and how past issues have been addressed.
A HOT TOPIC IN AN UNDERSERVED SPACE
Without a way to confirm exactly how many of the world’s approximately 31,965 civil helicopters and over 25,000 military helicopters are equipped with some form of connectivity, it’s safe to say the number is relatively low. Connectivity is a hot topic in the industry. “The importance of connectivity aboard any rotorcraft rests squarely on the operator and is dependent on several factors, including the specific operations being flown, operating areas, and operator priorities,” explains Christopher Martino, Vice President of Operations at Helicopter Association International (HAI). Within the business aviation sector, which includes rotorcraft used for everything from executive transport to search and rescue and law enforcement, connectivity is definitely a hot topic. “When talking with operators, OEMs, and aftermarket MROs, a topic that continues to come up is connectivity and, specifically, overcoming the Cobham | A New Day for Rotorcraft Connectivity 3 PACKET LOSS, EXPLAINED Internet data travels in a series of small packets. Packet Loss – expressed as a % of packets that get through – is a big determining factor in the speed (throughput) and quality of the connection. Some level of packet loss is normal – but as packet loss increases, connection speed and quality decrease – eventually resulting in an unusable connection. GOOD CONNECTION When packet loss stays in the range of 0-5%, connection speed and quality is good. DEGRADED CONNECTION When packet loss reaches 5-15%, the connection begins to degrade. UNUSABLE CONNECTION As packet loss approaches 40%, the connection becomes slow and unusable. the challenge of rotor shadowing,” says Nick Klenske, Executive Editor of BART International, a trade publication covering the business aviation sector. One OEM talking about connectivity is Bell Helicopter Textron. “We’re focusing on connectivity, not just because it’s good for Bell, but because it’s very good for our customers, for economies, and for safety – it’s the wave of the future,” adds Michael Suldo, Customer Solutions, Oil & Gas and HEMS, Bell Helicopter Textron.
Connectivity holds the possibility of exponentially increasing the performance, utility and effectiveness of rotorcraft operations. For many operators, it’s always been a must-have – but up to now, available solutions just didn’t meet the need or may have simply been too risky from a functional perspective. Technology has improved dramatically in recent years, and the new SB-Helo X-Stream service opens a whole new world of capabilities for the helicopter community. The true impact of the service starts with a faster, more reliable connection. But more significantly, it gives you more options throughout the entire helicopter connectivity ecosystem – SB-Helo X-Stream gives you more hardware packages to choose from, along with more opportunities to reduce certification costs, activation fees and ongoing airtime expenses. If you looked at connectivity in the past but the available solutions didn’t meet your needs, recent technology breakthroughs make it a great time to take a fresh look – especially if it’s been a while. We encourage you to take the knowledge and insight from this whitepaper and talk to Cobham, your OEM and/or the various MROs, hardware manufacturers and airtime providers – to see what opportunities are available.