Flight safety takes a giant leap forward

How the connected aircraft will drive new achievements in safety

For the first time, Inmarsat is bringing always on, always secure high-speed broadband to the cockpit, delivering much faster communications and a host of new safety applications that were never before available. Powerful enough to allow pilots to stream in-air graphical weather updates and airplane data, it will bring vast safety improvements for flight crews, airlines, and the passengers. This next generation cockpit connectivity platform will bring flight safety to new levels. We call it SwiftBroadband–Safety (SB-S).

Better connectivity means everything from improved weather information for pilots to faster and better communication with air traffic control to flight data streaming and performance monitoring.

Swift Broadband–Safety (SB-S) is pivotal innovation in aviation safety and the biggest step forward in cockpit connectivity in over 20 years. Using the extended bandwidth, data integrity, and security capabilities that only Inmarsat’s network can provide, SB-S enables innovative new applications to improve flight safety.

SwiftBroadband–Safety is a natural evolution of Inmarsat’s aviation services which have served airlines for over 25 years. Classic Aero is currently the market-leading voice and data safety service, used by more than 200 major airlines, jet operators and government agencies. When it launched in 1990, it expanded the number of aircraft able to safely fly over the world’s oceans at any one time by 300%. Over the last two decades it has proved to be extremely capable and reliable. But technology has changed – and SB-S promises to again revolutionise the safe flight of airplanes through the skies. 

Versatile and powerful

SB-S is the most powerful and versatile satellite communication solution for the cockpit. Multiple voice channels allow flight crew members to hold conversations at the same time – and the call quality is as clear as using a mobile phone or a landline.

Three types of connections ensure that SB-S is unique among satellite communications systems:

With ACARS over IP, the powerful Air Traffic Services applications that have enabled the expansion of oceanic airspace by over 300% will be faster, clearer and more reliable. An IP channel allows airline applications to provide passenger information to the destination. And the prioritised IP connection will bring real-time data streaming, position reporting, and power the electronic flight bag.

"A key point is that SB-S provides prioritised IP data stream for the cockpit, for both security and continuity of service – and a lower-priority data stream for non critical information,” says Inmarsat Aviation President Leo Mondale.

A higher quality, faster data connection delivers many other benefits too. Real-time data to an electronic flight bag means there’s capability to support EFB apps requiring richer information for better pilot decision-making. For example, a graphic weather EFB app which shows the pilot detailed real-time information about weather systems in the flight path – giving plenty of time to adjust course if required. This will make flights safer and more efficient, as well as more pleasant for passengers.

Black box in the cloud

SB-S provides a consistent, reliable and secure connection that enables aircraft to beam aircraft health and performance data to the ground in real time.

With the capability of global flight tracking, SB-S can tell a plane’s location at all times during flight, allowing airlines to benefit from near real-time reporting of aircraft latitude, longitude, altitude, true heading, and groundspeed. Paired with rapid notification of distress conditions to airlines and rescue coordination authorities, a narrowed search radius will provide far greater assurance of quickly locating a missing plane.

Because SB-S can stream vital information at all times, it provides further safety benefits centred around the aircraft’s ‘black box.’ Officially termed Flight Data Recorders or Cockpit Voice Recorders, these are bulky, ultra-robust data recorders that tap into the aircraft’s systems to record everything from its vital signs to cockpit conversations. In the event of a catastrophic event, the information they record is used by investigators to figure out what went wrong. Typically an aircraft reports its position every 15 minutes, but should the plane behave abnormally, such as veer off course or ascend or descend too rapidly, the system automatically switches to real-time reporting and, if necessary, all the critical data from the black box is instantly streamed to the ground.

With SB-S, Inmarsat can prioritise broadband data to the cockpit, providing segregation between regulated safety services and cabin communications. This data segregation creates a virtual 'fortress door,' ensuring the highest levels of information security. While offering a robust level of encryption and security, it also maximises the integrity and availability of safety data.

SB-S is the only system of its kind and, like Classic Aero, it will be the industry gold standard. With the number of aircraft in the sky set to double in the next 20 years, SB-S – which will cover all the major global air routes – is ready to power next generation air traffic modernisation programmes like Iris, SESAR, and NextGen.

SwiftBroadband-Safety is available for initial retrofit installation on existing aircraft today and is scheduled to become a standard option on new aircraft deliveries from 2018.