Infilght testing of the European Aviation Network (“EAN”) is upon us. Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom announced this week that the first flight test was completed covering multiple countries and proving the seamless integration of the satellite and terrestrial (“complementary”) components of the network. This is a major milestone as the companies pursue entry into service for the EAN solution in early 2018 with launch customer IAG and the British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus short-haul fleet.
Inmarsat and Deutsche Telekom conducted the evaluation with partners Cobham, Thales and Nokia using a CESSNA 550 Citation II provided by Dutch company NLR. The aircraft was flown across Germany, Belgium, France and Spain, covering approximately 5,000 km of European airspace, to test integration of the Mobile Satellite Services (MSS) and Complementary Ground Component (CGC) terminals. Further flight trials are scheduled over the coming weeks.
The countries overflown during the test flight(s) are particularly interesting given some of the pending regulatory challenges the EAN program faces. Final authorization for use of the Complementary Ground Component terrestrial service in France, Germany and Poland was still pending earlier this summer.
That the test flights used the system in two of those countries would appear to be a promising development for the companies and blow to the legal challenge mounted by Eutelsat and ViaSat, protesting the EAN architecture.
Inmarsat Aviation President Philip Balaam said: “These flight trials, together with the recent news that Ofcom in the UK is the latest European regulator to authorise the ground-based stations as part of the EAN, moves the project a step closer to commencing commercial service with our launch customer, which we expect to take place in the first half of 2018. This will be a game-changer for the airline market, offering passengers a new gold standard in resilient and scalable inflight broadband, with unmatched high capacity, low-latency performance.”
A scan of public flight tracking resources for the NLR Citation registration PH-LAB suggest that the test flights may have occurred two weeks ago. Given the list of countries tested over 11 October 2017 appears to be the magic date, with a pair of flights logged from Amsterdam to Girona, Spain and back.
The outbound routing covered the German test (and also crossed Italy and Switzerland) while the return flight overflew France for the bulk of the trip. PH-LAB has since performed a number of additional flights, mostly over Belgium and mostly at lower altitudes. It is unclear if these are related to EAN testing or not.