Shenzhen Airlines goes full throttle with SB-S

First commercial air transport carrier to install next generation flight deck broadband on narrow body A320s

One of Asia’s top carriers, Shenzhen Airlines, is now flying with Inmarsat’s next generation IP-based broadband service for the flight deck, SwiftBroadband Safety (SB-S), onboard. Installed on narrow-body Airbus 320 aircraft using Cobham SATCOM’s AVIATOR 300D hardware, Shenzhen Airlines’ inflight evaluation of SB-S marks the beginning of both safety and operational benefits to the airline.

This welcome news is both strategic and timely. The SB-S platform delivers powerful and flexible inflight communications and secure, real-time, in-air information to enhance Shenzhen Airlines’ safety, security and operational capabilities – both in the air and on the ground.

The Shenzhen Airlines evaluation is unique because it will truly unlock the full potential of SB-S, using satcom as a strategic asset. For the first time, satcom will be used over land to provide operational efficiencies to Shenzhen Airlines in addition to meeting safety requirements.

Previously, satcom has primarily been used as a safety utility for communications outside the range of conventional ground radar, such as over oceanic areas. But with the introduction of IP-based secure broadband, Shenzhen Airlines will be able to use satcom as a strategic asset to improve fuel savings, monitor aircraft health and performance in real time, utilise advanced EFB applications like real-time graphical weather for pilots and enjoy faster, more reliable communications from the air to the ground.

SB-S Benefits and Capabilities

Given the recent forecast by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which predicts Chinese passenger demand will more than double in the next 20 years, this demonstrates keen foresight by Shenzhen Airlines and its partners.

The Shenzhen Airlines partnership is part of a joint venture between Inmarsat, Beijing Marine Communication & Navigation Company, Ltd. (MCN) and Aviation Data Communication Corporation (ADCC) to provide aviation safety and operational services to the rapidly growing Chinese market.

Within the context of this partnership, MCN and ADCC are delivering satellite voice, ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing & Reporting System) and data services. MCN serves as project manager for Shenzhen Airlines’ SB-S evaluation process.

As well as complying with the Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) mandates CCAR 121 and AC-121, Shenzhen Airlines’ evaluation will focus on three integral SB-S satellite communication (satcom) capabilities:

  • Satellite Voice (satvoice) Communications
    Two-channel satellite-based services that enable faster and high-quality voice communication between the flight deck crew and its designated contacts on the ground, including air traffic controllers and airline operations personnel.
  • Integral Global Flight Tracking
    This enhanced, live tracking feature pinpoints an aircraft’s location through regular transmission of position reports. SB-S flight tracking enables the airline and Air Traffic Control (ATC) to know where the aircraft is and to understand its status in real time, which is essential for both safety and delivery of fuel-efficient flight.
  • ACARS Over IP
    Traditionally used to communicate with both the Airline Operations Centre and ATC, this is short-text capability over IP.

Further operational savings

As well as utilising these flight safety solutions, SB-S will also deliver operational savings to Shenzhen Airlines thanks to its high-speed communications. These will come in the form of reduced fuel costs, improved efficiency and enhanced security. A 2017 study by aviation consultants Helios found that increased satcom in the cockpit has saved airlines a staggering $3 billion, thanks to a range of safety and efficiency procedures that benefit both Air Traffic Control and Airline Operational Communications.

This range of SB-S solutions will help Shenzhen Airlines manage China’s rapid aviation growth. IATA has also predicted that China will replace America as the world’s largest aviation market by 2024. By employing Inmarsat’s next generation satellite connectivity now, Shenzhen Airlines is putting in place measures that will help it meet this rise in demand.

A pioneering solution

Captain Shao Bin, Shenzhen Airlines’ Vice President of Operations is particularly enthusiastic about the possibilities this evaluation offers, stating: “As China’s skies become more crowded and advanced flight-tracking capabilities become a necessity in the region’s airspace, Shenzhen Airlines wants to be at the forefront of this exciting next chapter of aviation history.

“We look forward to evaluating SB-S as a pioneering, satellite-based connectivity solution that will enable Shenzhen Airlines to offer enhanced safety, increased capacity and more efficient operations to our passengers – both in China and beyond.” 

Captain Mary McMillan, Inmarsat Aviation’s Business Unit Vice President of Safety and Operational Services comments: “As China continues its path toward becoming the world’s largest passenger aviation nation, Shenzhen Airlines is making an important move to ensure it is ready to not only expand its domestic service offerings but also meet Chinese passengers’ growing demand for international travel.

“As the trusted provider of aviation safety and operational services, Inmarsat is excited to work with Shenzhen Airlines and our partners to unlock the full potential of SB-S to optimise their flight deck and aircraft operations as they enter this exciting new era in Chinese aviation.”

These developments come at a significant time for the award-winning airline. Shenzhen Airlines celebrates its 25th anniversary later this year – it was founded in 1992 and commenced flights the following year. Having made its name on domestic routes, it joined Star Alliance in 2012 and has branched out into international operations serving various Asian cities including Osaka, Seoul and Jakarta. Future plans include extending its flight paths to new continents.