Demand for the Inmarsat EAN inflight connectivity product in the business aviation market is no surprise. With significant capacity available and a relatively tiny hardware footprint the kit is ideal for many smaller aircraft. The company alluded to such demand in the past, but insisted commercial aviation was the core focus. This week at EBACE in Geneva Inmarsat adjusted that plan, officially launching the EAN product for BizAv. The service is expected to be available in January 2019.
Our projections show that the European business aviation fleet will grow beyond 5,000 aircraft in the coming years. We expect a strong uptake for EAN by offering a variety of data plans to meet every budget. Work has already commenced with a large business aviation launch customer for the service and planning for our first STC is underway. – Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation
With the initial STC work already in progress Inmarsat should be able to deliver on that timeline and service offering. The initial testing of the service came on a CESSNA 550 Citation II and the kit is identical between the commercial and business aviation markets (save for additional access points on the larger aircraft). This commonality reduces costs and complexity of supporting the EAN service in the biz jet market.
Just a few weeks ago at Aircraft Interiors Expo Inmarsat’s VP Aviation Strategy and Communication Frederik van Essen suggested that BizAv distribution was on the horizon, though not necessarily an immediate goal:
You need to be careful that you don’t take too many things on at the same time. The focus has really been on getting this going in commercial aviation in Europe, for the airlines. We have seen a lot of demand for business aviation so we are looking in to that, how to commercialize that, how we do that….The focus was really on getting [EAN on commercial aircraft done]. That remains the full focus until we have it going, but we’re now moving beyond that.
Clearly the company believes that its progress to date with launch customer IAG is sufficient to justify the expansion of offerings. That progress does include hardware installation on a significant number of A320-family aircraft but also zero planes flying with EAN available to passengers today. Still, the company appears keen to push forward with the BizAv side of the market. Given generally higher margins in that segment the move makes a lot of sense. Inmarsat only sells the EAN product directly rather than via resellers, further supporting the business case to get into service ASAP.
Adding significant aircraft count to the EAN network – Inmarsat sees a potential fleet of more than 5,000 BizAv flying in Europe – could stress the total bandwidth available, particularly around airports. Terrestrial network provider Deutsch Telekom is not outwardly concerned, believing the service has room to grow. Adjusting the ground segment configuration to include smaller cell zones can be performed on a case-by-case basis. The initial deployment puts a trio of antennae on each tower. That configuration can be increased to six antennae, halving the coverage area for each, within the same spectrum allocation. This effectively doubles the capacity around any given tower. It comes with a cost and would only be used where necessary, but growth is possible.
Join me for a walk through the #EAN booth at #AIX18 to see the components in action. With a real S-Band LTE link as part of the connection. #paxex #EuropeanAviationNetwork @InmarsatGlobal @Telekom_group pic.twitter.com/OfnjnHJ4Tw
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) April 12, 2018
The EAN network still faces legal challenges owing to debate around the choice to primarily use terrestrial capacity for data rather than only using that link where the satellite is unavailable. To date Inmarsat appears to be winning those suits, but it is not 100% in the clear. But even with the pending lawsuits deployment and service growth continues.
EAN is a game-changer for the business aviation market, offering gold standard inflight wifi to a broad spectrum of aircraft, from small turboprops to larger platforms such as the Citations, Learjets and Phenoms. It really is ideal for any business jet whose mission keeps them predominantly in Europe. – Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation