Early adopters

Discover how Lufthansa is retrofitting its aircraft for GX Aviation

Unlike road vehicles, aircraft are normally in service for decades. This means there are currently thousands of commercial planes flying with narrowband satellite connectivity, most of which have many years in the air ahead of them.

To enjoy the benefits of broadband, these planes will need to have their existing satellite communications systems replaced with high-speed systems. This means that, over the next few years, as airlines adopt next generation broadband, there is going to be a huge wave of retrofit installations.

Lufthansa has already embarked on such a programme. In the video above, we can see the retro-fitting process where Lufthansa planes have their current systems upgraded at Lufthansa Tecknik’s MRO (maintenance, repairs and overhaul) bases. Lufthansa retrofitted its first plane in June 2016 and has now rolled out the programme to aircraft such as the A319 and A320.

“This is the kick off for a huge, huge campaign for connectivity within the European market,” says Lufthansa Technik’s director of aircraft modification Michael Zeisig, talking to Runwaygirlnetwork, “It starts with the Lufthansa fleet, and we are talking about up to 300 aircraft to be equipped in the next two-and-a-half to three years. So this is really a huge campaign.” 

Essential equipment

The hardware which enables GX Aviation is Honeywell’s JetWave, which comprises multi-channel satellite terminals, a controller, modem and router hardware, and a fuselage or tail mounted antennae. JetWave is the only aircraft terminal to include dual receivers, which enable seamless “make before break" handoffs between satellite beams. Unlike other hardware solutions, with JetWave, there are no outages when a terminal switches from using one beam to another, which means fewer service interruptions and less downtime for users. Moreover, Inmarsat Aviation itself is also the only inflight broadband provider with a proprietary network of satellites designed specifically for aviation. GX Aviation powered by the Global Xpress satellite network delivers greater service reliability.

JetWave is lightweight so it minimises fuel burn and robust, so it maximises the intervals between services. Like Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network, Honeywell’s hardware is continually being updated and benefits from an ongoing innovation pipeline designed to deliver regular improvements. It has been designed to meet all FAA, CAA and EASA requirements and should be ‘future proof’ for years, if not decades, to come.

Installations of JetWave can be carried out by airlines’ own maintenance crews, third parties or arranged by Inmarsat Aviation. In all cases, Inmarsat Aviation can supply experts to help with new fit of each type and configuration. This includes surveying the airframe, design, design reviews, engineering design, working with the airline to install, type certification and supplemental type certification (STC). It means the time the aircraft is out of service is kept to a minimum. The retro-fit is available worldwide. The equipment itself has also been designed to keep installation time down to a minimum. Lufthansa Technik says that as they establish the installation protocols for each type of aircraft, they should have the installation time down to four or five days and possibly less. Working on multiple aircraft in parallel should also result in faster turnaround times and greater efficiencies.