Time matters, and in today's fast-paced world, Internet connectivity can be vital. Whether it's a pending high-stakes business deal, checking fuel prices online or just keeping the kids entertained, there are a million reasons to stay connected during a long flight. Up until now, the options for in-flight Internet have been pretty limited, ranging from systems costing hundreds of thousands of dollars aimed at large business jets to less expensive systems based on limited-bandwidth satellite networks. Some of these networks, such as the Iridium satellite system, were originally designed for early-generation cellular technology and can't deliver the kind of speed that today's applications demand. Select a data plan and read the fine print for most of these systems, and you'll quickly learn that even the cheapest options can still be absurdly expensive—even for very modest data volumes.
The new AeroWave 100 from BendixKing aims to change all that as the first in a line of products envisioned to bring affordable in-flight Internet to the aviation masses. Signal delivery is satellite based with global coverage throughout three primary areas: the North and South Americas, and the European and Asia Pacific regions. With a bandwidth of up to 200 Kbps, the system delivers 3G speeds while in flight. That's fast enough for emailing, "light" web browsing, text messaging and voice over IP. A 1 MB file can even be downloaded in less than 30 seconds. FaceTime is also possible if you can handle minor continuity glitches. The system also allows email attachments, which is a new capability for most aircraft-based systems. There are no limits on the number of users in the aircraft, although the system will work best with one to three users online at the same time.
The AeroWave installation includes three boxes and an external antenna only slightly larger than a typical GPS antenna. The antenna is a small hockey-puck shape positioned between the Com antenna and ELT blade. Multiple users can connect wirelessly throughout the cabin.
Installation requires three boxes along with a fuselage-mounted antenna that's only slightly larger than a typical GPS antenna. The total weight of the installation is right around 15 pounds, and at most, it only requires 80 watts of power. The typical power draw is considerably less at around 45 watts. The system is DO-160 certified, and the installer will perform an EMI test as part of the installation procedure to ensure that there's no interference with the aircraft's avionics and navigation systems. The signal is delivered via a single RJ45 port into the plane. Customers can choose how to distribute the signal from there—either through wired ports or via a wireless router. Although there are a few STC-approved routers available for permanent installation, they tend to be quite expensive. So, another option that most Part 91 customers will probably choose is to simply plug a router in as a removable device to avoid the certification requirements needed for permanently installed equipment. This option gives customers the freedom to pick up a simple, inexpensive router from pretty much any electronics supplier. That saves cost and makes it easy to swap units should one die (and that does happen every once in a while). As with other portable devices, it will be up to the Part 91 operator to ensure that the unit does not interfere with the aircraft systems.
Also new is the structure of the data package. Unlike most plans, charges will be based on an annual hourly basis rather than on the amount of data consumed. The lowest plan will be aimed at owner-operators with an hourly limit of 150 hours/year. Higher levels will set the annual limit at around 300 and 450 hours—perfect for heavier business use. The program is brand new, and BendixKing is still working out pricing for the plans, but their goal is to make it much lower than other competing options. Suffice it to say that it won't be competitive with a typical home service plan, but it aims to provide the best bang for the buck when it comes to airborne service.
With a base price of $19,999 for the hardware plus the price of individual aircraft specific "installation kits," the AeroWave 100 is aimed at the turboprop and light jet market. However, BendixKing has a long-term vision to eventually expand the product line to push the technology into the piston world. A long-term goal is to become the key supplier of Internet pipeline services for the GA world.
So, when can you get it? The good news is there's limited availability right now. Two fully certified test airplanes (one a Citation Mustang) have been flying for about a month, and the very first customer airplanes should begin rolling out of the shop shortly. The data plan details should be released, and a new amplified antenna system will be ready for delivery during the second quarter of this year. BendixKing is working hard to build their reputation as an on-time supplier and meet all of their delivery date commitments. They believe that affordable, high-speed, in-flight data delivery will be a game changer for GA, and it just might change the way we look at business travel, and maybe just GA travel, forever.