Inflight safety services communications have a new data network. Inmarsat announced today that the FAA approved its Swiftbroadband-Safety (SB-S) solution for support of air traffic services, delivering a link between air traffic control (ATC) and pilots via Inmarsat’s global L-band satellite constellation.
Inmarsat has a rich history of providing cutting-edge, transformative services for the global aviation industry. We are proud to continue that tradition with SB-S, the world’s first solution for digital aircraft operations and safety. Inmarsat is the only satellite communications provider that can deliver these benefits to airlines. Receiving the FAA’s final approval is a milestone of huge significance, reinforcing Inmarsat’s global market leadership and validating the potential of SB-S to maximise airline operational efficiency and safety for many years to come.– Philip Balaam, President of Inmarsat Aviation
In approving the platform the FAA highlighted the SB-S technology’s ability to “provide diversity and potential for advances of capability that will further maximize operational benefits and ensure safety.”
The SB-S approval comes after years of testing with US-based carriers. Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines installed the system beginning in June 2015. It operated on some 25,000 flights over three years covering seven different aircraft types.
The SB-S system relies on a secure IP connection, transmitted across the satellite network, to link the aircraft with services on the ground. The IP-based solution reduces communications costs compared to legacy technologies (e.g. ACARS over VHF) while increasing the variety of digital applications that can be supported for real-time services on the flight deck and airline operations. Inmarsat expects to see applications covering enhanced fleet and crew management, predictive maintenance and disruption management.
The solution also provides an isolated data link for aircraft health monitoring via Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) applications, which can improve aircraft routings, reducing flight delays and fuel consumption while avoiding weather systems and providing a smoother ride for passengers. While EFB systems can be linked across the inflight connectivity network also used for passenger data services some consider the physically distinct data pipe an appropriate and necessary security choice.
The SB-S offering combines voice and data services across the link, with increased capacity versus the legacy offerings. It can also support flight data recorder streaming (also known as Black Box in the CloudTM). Similar to the EFB systems, keeping this data on an isolated physical link is considered a best practice.
The SB-S solution also integrates into ATC modernization programs that seek to better track aircraft positions and improve aircraft densities in highly congested airspaces. These include the Single European Sky ATM Research (SESAR) masterplan and NextGen in the United States. In addition, Inmarsat’s SB-S powers Iris, a ground-breaking project by Inmarsat and the European Space Agency (ESA) that uses satellite-based datalink communication to enhance and modernize air traffic management over European airspace.
Among other benefits of the SB-S program, the on-board hardware is significantly smaller and lighter than the Ku or Ka-band antenna systems traditionally used for IP connectivity. This allows airlines to affordably include both platforms on aircraft.
The aircraft tracking options are not unique to the SB-S platform. Aireon’s new ADS-B tracking solution that flies as a guest payload on the Iridium NEXT constellation of satellites provides true global coverage (including polar) for aircraft tracking. It will also help optimize air traffic management and is in production with NAV Canada and NATS today. The ADS-B solution is unidirectional, however, while SB-S is bidirectional communications.