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Resolving Connectivity Issues at 30,000 Feet

Jan. 20, 2014

Listen to an NBAA Flight Plan podcast about staying connected while in flight.

The customers in the cabin of business aircraft increasingly expect to be able to continue doing business while in flight. That means in addition to their normal duties, pilots and flight attendants, as well as maintenance technicians, now must be versed in Internet and voice networking.

“More passengers are demanding the ability to connect to their email, make phone calls, even work on their companies’ virtual private networks while in flight,” said Mark Mata, a field support representative and North American training leader for SATCOM Direct, based in Satellite Beach, FL. “The passenger doesn’t care how it happens – he or she just wants to connect.”

Increasingly, Mata said, companies are putting networking technicians on board flights to ensure connectivity is maintained and to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. Flight attendants are becoming versed in network diagnostics, as are other flight crew members. And increasingly, software companies are providing apps that can help diagnose connectivity issues in flight, providing information vital to the troubleshooting process.

One of the biggest issues, according to Mata, is bandwidth.

“There are as many as three Internet-capable devices for each passenger who boards a business flight,” he said. “Everybody’s got a smartphone, a tablet and a laptop. The problem is, they’re often connected whether they’re in use or not.”

That many passenger devices, in addition to those used by crew members, tax the onboard bandwidth, Mata explained. Consider bandwidth the pipe through which water flows. The pipe is only so wide; therefore, only so much water can flow through. Data is like the water that flows through the pipe, and the more devices attached to an aircraft’s wireless network, the more data is pushed through the pipe.

If the demand is high enough, the pipe eventually clogs and little or nothing gets through.

Mata had several suggestions for mitigating this problem. They are:

  • Run diagnostic applications, often found in the form of smartphone apps. They can verify the status of a wireless cabin network, information that is vital to the onboard crew or ground-based technical people trying to troubleshoot an in-flight problem.
  • Plug a device into the router. That way, you can determine if the wireless system itself is the root of the problem.
  • Shut down all unnecessary laptops, smartphones and tablets. For those that remain active, ensure that they are not automatically downloading updates, which can be huge in terms of downloaded data.

“The biggest thing is to be informed,” Mata suggested. “Know what systems are on board and how people are connecting.”

Mata will lead an education session on cabin networking at NBAA’s Business Aviation Regional Forum on Jan. 30 in Boca Raton, FL.

Learn more about the Boca Raton Regional Forum.