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Business Aviation Insider

September/October 2014, Convention Issue of Business Aviation Insider

GLOBAL CONNECTIVITY

Business aviation helps Satcom Direct stay connected in multiple ways.

Global communications company Satcom Direct knows firsthand about the needs of flight departments, because it has one itself. Based in Satellite Beach, FL, the company not only provides global satellite communications, inflight Internet services and mobile handheld satellite phones for business aircraft, it also utilizes business aviation to carry its products and message around the world.

Founder and CEO Jim Jensen launched Satcom Direct in 1997. “Our aim was to provide seamless communications to and from aircraft, offering the ability for users to operate their cell phones onboard an aircraft just as they do on the ground.” In the intervening years, Satcom Direct has expanded its portfolio considerably, today offering inflight data streaming solutions, as well as ground communications products.

Nevertheless, the company’s foundation “remains solidly in aviation,” noted Jensen. “Our core business involves listening to flight departments, large and small, and designing connectivity services to help support their mission.”

Inflight Product Demos Deliver

These airplanes are used as tools by all our employees, in both sales and support roles. We are able to remain lean and efficient, thanks to business aviation.
– Jim Jensen, Founder and CEO, Satcom Direct

Jensen’s appreciation for business flying began in 2002 when he started flight training in a Cessna 182. While he occasionally used that airplane to visit clients, it wasn’t until Jensen upgraded to a Beechcraft G36 Bonanza for IFR training – and soon after, a G58 Baron to build multi-engine time – that he was able to use business aviation to optimize his schedule.

“Those planes helped me visit clients not only in Southern Florida, but throughout the South,” Jensen explained. “It was so much easier than flying commercial into Atlanta, renting a car and driving to see a client. Now, we often pull right up to our customers’ hangars.”

Satcom Direct operates two Cessna Citations – a CitationJet and a CJ3. The company also has access to supplemental lift via a Dassault Falcon 50 operated on a FAR Part 135 charter certificate.

According to Flight Operations Director Rob Waldron, the CJs operated a combined 671 hours in 2013, flying 566 trip legs to 119 different destinations. The company used the Falcon 50 for 28 hours in 2013, a figure already exceeded this year during sales and support trips to Europe.

All three aircraft are outfitted with Satcom Direct’s inflight connectivity systems, enabling the company to demonstrate its capabilities firsthand to potential customers and deliver the full user experience. The aircraft are, in effect, some of their strongest sales tools.

Employee Flight School Inspires

Satcom Direct employs seven pilots, but many more of the company’s 150 employees are taking to the skies in what is effectively a flight school for its employees.

“Any Satcom Direct employee may learn to fly in our Piper Warrior,” Waldron noted. “We have 23 active pilots in the company, but the most important role of the flying club is providing an opportunity for people with diverse professional and non-aviation backgrounds to better understand the industry. Individuals who are able to speak the same ‘aviation language’ as our customers’ flight departments and our industry peers are, in turn, better able to understand their needs.”

“These airplanes are used as tools by all our employees, in both sales and support roles,” Jensen added. “We are able to remain lean and efficient, thanks to business aviation.”

In addition to the obvious advantages offered by business aviation, the company’s use of aircraft also presents unique opportunities for Satcom Direct to enhance its reputation throughout the industry.

“We once stopped for fuel at an airport in Illinois and a maintenance technician asked for our help with a competitor’s satcom system,” said Jensen. “Our engineer crawled up inside the airplane and fixed it for him.”

Training and Skill Building a Priority

Satcom Direct emphasizes safety training and ongoing development of pilot skills. The pilots undergo recurrent training at FlightSafety International, and the flight department received International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations accreditation in 2012.

Company personnel participate in many industry safety and security initiatives, including the DCA Access Standard Security Program and FAA initiatives highlighting risk-management skills and reviewing check airmen standards.

Flight department staff members are active in NBAA training programs, too. One initiative of particular interest to Jensen is Project Bootstrap, the proposed aviation maintenance technician certification program developed by the NBAA Maintenance Committee in collaboration with several industry partners.

The team also takes a forward-looking approach to finding new areas for improvement. “As we grow the company and train our employees, we all recognize areas that need to be addressed,” said Jensen. “A path toward certification of satellite communications training would be beneficial to the industry as a whole.”

Aside from its core duties, the flight department supports various philanthropic initiatives, including the Veterans Airlift Command and Corporate Angel Network. “We look at our list of flights every day to see if there’s a way for us to help,” Waldron said.

Additionally, company First Officer Whitney Coyle and Marketing Director Mariellen Couppee participate annually as volunteers in the Collings Foundation’s “Wings of Freedom” tour, flying vintage World War II aircraft across the U.S.

“It’s important for all of us to represent aviation and give our time to this industry,” Jensen concluded. “We can always make things better.”