Air Transport World

Satellite communications firms vie for coming aviation market.

Satellite communications firms vie for coming aviation market In 1968 when the first 747 was rolled out of Boeing's doors, there was a small hump on top of the fuselage where the upper deck tapered down. In the airplane of the future this bump would accommodate the communications mode of the future--satellite communications. A dish antenna would be pointed skyward at the aviation communications satellite that was thought to be around the corner.

Although a long time coming, that corner now appears to be approaching fast, and from a number of directions. More than a few communications organizations are planning worldwide satellite communication networks for aviation users, with some operations to start as early as mid-1987. Among companies with such plans are Inmarsat, ARINC and SITA. The immediate uses for such a system are varied and utilitarian; the eventual breadth of possibilities presented by this technology challenged the imagination.

Reasonable cost expected

The need for such communications coverage is not net, as the 747 provisions show. But proposed systems in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the Aerosat satellite project, were doomed by a combination of high cost and a user base insufficiently large to support the cost.

What is new is the reasonable cost the service providers are predicting, plus a larger user base in an expanded aviation market, ans in some cases a base enlarged by other classes of users. An ARINC executive told ATW that a typical 256-byte message "burst," similar to that used in existing ACARS (Airline Communication, Addressing, Reporting System) or AIRCOM messages, will cost airlines about five cents each, or less.

According to the report by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics Special Committee 155 on future communications, navigation and surveillance systems, satellite communications eventually will be used for nearly all air traffic control, navigation and communication functions--direct air-ground communications will remain only in high density terminal areas. Most of the communications will be in the form of data link, the digital transmission form now spreading through the aviation world in ACARS and AIRCOM--ACARS is provided by ARINC, AIRCOM is a similar SITA service. …

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