• Ground based applications allow airlines to track aircraft

Aircraft Interiors Expo, Hamburg | April 14, 2015– Malaysia Airlines will be the first carrier to implement global flight tracking using SITA OnAir’s AIRCOM® FlightTracker, starting this summer. Both airlines have already conducted extensive testing of the technology, which uses existing equipment and re-purposes air traffic control data. This ground-based software upgrade allows airlines to follow aircraft positions and identify any unexpected deviations or gaps in position reports. Because it utilizes existing equipment, the solution is highly cost effective.

AIRCOM® FlightTracker was launched to meet the needs of the aviation industry. Moving beyond the trial phase, the airlines are now ready to roll out the system across their entire fleets. Malaysia Airlines will be the first to go live with deployment this summer, in under a year after the solution was launched in fast track mode in June 2014.

SITA OnAir’s solution provides the tracking capabilities the airline needs without the requirement for new and expensive equipment. SITA OnAir has designed a solution that works using the AIRCOM Server ACARS message handling system, which airlines already has in place, so the cost and disruption are minimal.

AIRCOM® FlightTracker uses multiple sources of data that guarantees tracking intervals of at least every 15 minutes for every flight. The airline also has the option to configure the system to intervals of less than 15 minutes. In addition, AIRCOM® FlightTracker enables the airline to proactively obtain ADS-C tracking data immediately when it detects a gap in data from other sources. AIRCOM®FlightTracker can also obtain one-off position reports from the Flight Management computers on short-haul aircraft that do not have FANS data link avionics.

“We have designed the solution so airlines have straightforward access to ATC-like tracking data,” said Ian Dawkins, CEO of SITA OnAir. “For those airlines already using our ACARS messaging, we can deploy it very quickly. Following the recent ICAO discussions, we are also working on the definition and development of a new system to detect and report unusual situations. As part of our commitment to the air transport community we are also investigating new aircraft solutions that are independent of aircraft power or systems.”

ICAO’s Multidisciplinary Meeting on Global Flight Tracking in May 2014 called for, ‘global tracking of airline flights…to provide early notice of and response to abnormal flight behaviour.’ The ICAO meeting also concluded that airlines, ‘will be encouraged to use existing equipment and procedures to the extent possible to support flight tracking’. The same principles were reiterated by IATA’s Aircraft Tracking Task Force in its report and recommendations in November last year, and reinforced at ICAO’s Second High Level Safety Conference in February 2015.

AIRCOM® FlightTracker therefore has an important role to play in providing improved tracking and detection of unplanned movements, without requiring modifications to the aircraft. It is simply an extra software layer on top of SITA OnAir’s existing AIRCOM® Server ACARS message handling system, which is already used by over 90 airlines around the world. It is very efficient: it is straightforward to install and therefore adds only minimal cost.

“As part of our commitment to the air transport community we will, during an emergency, provide AIRCOM® FlightTracker position reporting free of charge to SITA member customers,” concluded Dawkins. “AIRCOM® FlightTracker will request emergency positioning reports if it identifies that a flight has left its normal route for an unknown reason – and we will waive charges for that reporting until the emergency ends.”

Airlines in Europe and Asia are currently assessing SITA OnAir AIRCOM® FlightTracker, with a view to making the necessary upgrade from the ACARS system.

Editor’s Note: This Hot Topic is a head swimmer and we really recommend downloading the mentioned links in the article and studying them while reading.

If the concept of the Internet and aviation makes you nervous, you aren’t alone. More specifically, connectivity of any kind and airplanes are an issue that will keep tongues wagging for some time to come. While we must admit, aviation data communication and hacking are not our strong suit; we are none-the-less concerned and have been trying to keep up with the rapidly changing connectivity landscape. Further, if you are up on terms like “Lizard Squad”, “Syrian Electronic Army”, or exploited vulnerabilities like “MS 15-011” or “CVE-2015-0235 (Ghost)” then you are probably ahead of us in the future shock workings of electronic hacking. Make no mistake, if “Malaysian Airline System” and “A380” appear in Recorded Future/Cyber Daily listing of cyber attacks… you will be involved! And if you want to know more, SITA has been on the forefront of this technology and might be a good place to start. In the past, we have referenced the Recorded Future folks’ efforts in this arena – Check out the webinar. In the aforementioned webinar, Dave Ockwell-Jenner of SITA points out some hacks like “ADS-B Hack” and “Operation Cleaver” that are just the beginning of the nightmare that will grow with time.

But, this Hot Topic is more about the airplane security side of aviation data communication. To that end, we have been working with one of our industry’s experts in data security, Mark Thompson (Thompson Aerospace). We suspect that his interest began in IFE but has now morphed to include secure connectivity. We asked Mark to chime in on the subject and he quickly sent us a presentation that his team presented at an ARINC 848 meeting.

You might also remember a Hot Topic we discussed with Mark (October 2014) when he noted, “The biggest problem in this business has always been managing the data.” To that end, Thompson has employed some very clever solutions and the key to their data management schemes is to maintain a secure connection between the aircraft and the ground and provide a scheme for validation between the airborne unit and the cloud. With the advent of a lot of credit cards sales, both onboard and off board the aircraft, Thompson designed their server with FIPS 140-2 Level 3 security… ”Equal to that used by the US Federal Reserve,” he noted. Thompson has had this gateway in development for the past 3 years and the company told IFExpress that in 2020 the US government is requiring asymmetric keys security from airborne satellite communications… and Thompson Aerospace can provide it now.

One point that seems to be at issue is: data communication is not necessarily best sent point-to-point, especially if there is a lot of it. Rather, storage is best, either on the plane, but eminently more useful, if stored in the Cloud. While safer stored on a plane, it is usually not available till the plane has landed. Not only is localized permanent storage of gigabytes of data challenging, access and usage may be needed worldwide and thus very secure, Internet storage is chosen as more favorable for Big Data. And, we have not even mentioned passenger data, but the Thompson solution includes that too. While we have not addressed the subject of costs, transmission and storage have their costs but the utility of data may just be worth it – think MH 370.

The real reason we chose to talk to Mark is because airlines, aviation communication specialists, and airframe manufactures are talking to Thompson Aerospace about his solution to one big problem – secure data communication in the air. His recent communication system developments triggered our interest so we caught up with him and he told IFExpress: “Here is a simple presentation on our system. We really just make the aircraft a node on the Internet, to achieve this requires an approved means of security. Our system provides the same level of security used by DoD ‘secret’ communications, FIPS 140-2. Hence, we can pass any data over any type link and make sure it is not modified or hacked.” To backtrack a bit, we understand that Thompson Aerospace has been in the data business for some time now and Mark impressed that fact on IFExpress at the last APEX Conference in Anaheim, CA. At the time he told us that his aircraft data solution used 2 encryption keys, one public and one private – that means his security levels are government levels and the same as DoD levels.

We naturally asked Mr. Thompson for a rundown on his security solution so please refer to the title chart above and the Press Release on Real -Time Flight Tracking and Performance Solution product.

Q. The green units on our cover chart are connected how? One box, 2 boxes, 3 boxes (cards)?
Mark: The green units show the logic, we have one CSU per aircraft, it has 3 processors, hence, can do 400 Mb/s in streaming video on demand using only 20 percent of a single processor, we recommend (2) WAPS but each WAP is an 802.11n, hence a single WAP could do a 200 seats. The antenna is to show the connectivity solutions, we have two small antennae.

Q. The Connectivity Server Unit does what, to what, how?
Mark: The CSU does it all, all the aircraft interface, the Iridium, 3 processors, 2,000 Gigabytes of user stowage (2) cell phones, plus a Quad channel GPS, and accelerometer, and some other interfaces, it is a system in a box. One of these units used as an IFE server could do 400 seats of Video on Demand and stow over 2000 hours of content.

Q. Maintenance access is oft times cell, and I guess now Wi-Fi… through what?
Mark: We use the Wi-Fi for maintenance access and have an additional Bluetooth channel for added functions.

Q. Does all the Aircraft Data go thru Iridium?
Mark: Only high value data as this is an expensive link.

Q. What data goes where and how and through what? Crew, aircraft, main, pax, cabin?
Mark: All the data on the aircraft goes to the CSUthe CSU talks to the Cloud, and the Cloud can send any data securely to anybody in the world that has an Internet connection

Q: How many boxes and how many cards are involved?
Mark: 1 CSU, 2 WAPs and a 10.1-inch control panel is recommended.

Q: The cost?
Mark: We are offering a one time set up charge of $10K, plus a month fee based on what services they want. It is a service level agreement, so customers only pay for what they use, we provide all the hardware, and they never have to buy an LRU again. If they agree to share revenue from the passengers with our approved third parties we will write them a check each month.

  • With the recent launch of the 1NETv2, Thompson Aerospace has incorporated flight tracking and real- time performance data alerting and streaming. The 1NETv2, which continuously connects the aircraft to the cloud, collects all Category C and higher data and utilizes their patented hardware security to create the first secure Airborne Local Area Network.

Irvine, CA | January 26, 2015– Thompson Aerospace of Irvine, CA announced today that they currently offer aircraft position tracking and performance alerting capability as part of their 1NET Airborne Local Area Network (ALAN). Thompson Aerospace is the leader in IT data management solutions for commercial aircraft.

Mark Thompson, President of Thompson Aerospace stated, “With the recent events in the last few years, it is important for our industry to acknowledge that we have a major data management issue. This issue is easy to fix, but requires us to embrace solutions that require changes in to how we manage data across organizations. The solution will have state of the art data processing, data security and real time world wide access to the data. The ability to manage data efficiently will create new cost savings and revenue opportunities while improving operations such as turn times, safety and customer satisfaction. Many stake holders would pay airlines to access to data from passengers or aircraft systems, and forward thinking airlines will revolutionize airline economic models as early adopters of aircraft information technology solutions. Simply stated, the airplane will be a node on the internet.”

Thompson Aerospace has taken this approach to data management for commercial airplanes and has created a paradigm shift in moving data between the aircraft and secure cloud environment. The 1NETv2 not only collects all data from the aircraft systems, it has embedded GPS, accelerometer, and other sensors to provide an independent data source.

This system approach allows not just inflight data: any time the ground service buss is powered, the system is able to stream data to airline personnel in real time.

The 1NET ALAN has been in operation for 3 years and has successfully moved 100s of million data records between the aircraft and cloud. The 1NET v2 provides the highest level of data security in the industry and meets FIPS 140-2 Level 3 and DO-326 requirements.

Mr. Thompson added, “We announced the launch of the CSUv2 server a few months ago. The CSUv2 has built in GPS, Iridium and accelerometer. It collects all data including aircraft systems and with predetermined parameters sends alerts to the airline. In the event that a parameter exceedance becomes critical we can stream all pertinent data such as position, performance, turbulence, auto pilot disconnect, etc. Most of the recent news has implied solutions are yet to be developed and will be relatively expensive for implementation. Our 1NET v2 is already available and very economical. In addition to standard tracking data, the airline receive all aircraft performance and system data for normal operations. This allows the airline to have immediate visibility to the aircraft health data and can expedite turn around times and improve predictive maintenance capability”.

The combination of 1NET’s low cost, simplicity and advanced capability makes real-time automated tracking and monitoring a viable option for all aircraft.
Thomas Enders said at a conference in 2013 that we have to embrace Information Technology solutions to gain the efficiencies common to other industries. Over two years later, we are still talking about how information technology could help our industry; the time to embrace technology is now, and the systems are available to any airline that wants to move forward.

For product data sheets contact Lisa Nielesky: LisaNielesky@ThompsonAerospace.com

IFExpress is known for calling your attention to the “little guy”, and usually new start-ups in our business, no matter how big or small, deserve your attention. This week we present Wisscom, a relatively new venture in Oxford, UK (and possibly soon in Singapore). The company has an interesting goal: “…real-time tracking along with reports that help analyze operationally critical flight and engine data, all helping airlines to cut costs & improve performance.” We note that they, for the most part, see using connectivity hardware (a lot from the IFEC space) to deliver software solutions that airlines need today. According to Wisscom CEO, Abdou Attou, “Wisccom is all about the web2.0 of the SKY & beyond just connectivity & IFE provisioning.”

Let’s take a look at the company. Wisscom is registered and incorporated in the UK since 2013 – it is a young & innovative platform developer providing IFE, Connectivity & data management that they deem “a unique approach to the industry.” The Wisscom team today stands at 8… Four MBA’s from Oxford University and a senior management team with more than 40 years of experience in the aerospace industry, combined. They offer the following products:
1. SmartFleet: Recognizing airlines’ need for operational efficiency and quick turnaround time on the ground, Wisscom’s SmartFleet solution provides airlines with real live tracking along with reports that help analyze operationally critical flight and engine data, helping airlines to cut costs & improve performance.
2. FlyConnect: Our range of existing and available hardware products which are developed to best suit different airlines’ needs for connectivity, in-flight entertainment and flight management systems. FlyConnect is a high-performing, yet affordable system that competes with the best in the industry.
3. FlySaga: Wisscom Aero’s fully customizable and modular software solution, FlySaga, is the best in market in-flight entertainment solution. The completely wireless system provides matchless entertainment experience by beaming services like AVOD, e-Shopping and Games directly to the users’ devices.

Abdou Attou, the founder of the start-up, is a former investment-banking executive in the capital market for over 17 years. He worked as an analyst in the US capital market (NY) after moving to London and worked with Merrill Lynch where he covered the aerospace industry. From our perspective, he is a full time entrepreneur driven by innovation with some exciting and, possibly, disruptive ideas. Noted Mr. Attou: “We realized that though airlines had a lot of data regarding various parameters of a flight, they did not have a tool to derive actionable intelligence from it, in addition, the connectivity solutions on offer were extremely expensive for all but a limited band of airlines. Wisscom was started to address these problems. We aspire to do so by providing customized flight analytics reports apart from high speed, low cost and reliable connectivity to airlines in Europe and Asia.”

OK, Mr. Attou, we got the message but what are the benefits of your products to the airlines you serve? Wisscom’s products must appeal to customers for a variety of reasons we asked. “Lets look at them,” he said, “1. Self-funded: SmartFleet provides users with a means to record flight data in real time as well as interpret this data to improve operational efficiency and hence reduce costs, hence, in a way, Wisscom’s products pay for themselves. 2. Low Cost: Due to the unique design of Wisscom solutions, the overall cost for the airlines is reduced significantly. Since the FlyConect hardware can host both SmartFleet and FlySaga, while supporting the SatCom system as well, the hardware costs are cross-subsidized. Moreover, the IFE system offered by Wisscom, being completely wireless and lightweight is significantly cheaper than traditional offerings. And 3. Multiple adoption routes: Since SatCom, SmartFeet and FlySaga are powered by the same on-board hardware, FlyConnect, airlines have the option to begin with one of the solutions and introduce the other solutions as and when the business need arises. Wisscom ensures that there are minimum changes to the existing setup whenever one of the solutions is adopted, making the staggered adoption method viable & cost-effective.”

IFExpress was also curious about the specific airline benefits and their competitive product features and Mr. Attou responded: “There are at least 11 reasons airlines benefit from the data Wisscom sells:
1. APU Usage and fuel calculation (this is used to determine APU’s running when ground power units are available), also excessive APU usage.
2. Altitude at gear-down for Flaps 3 and Full (this is used to determine if the aircraft are using gear down in an attempt to slow down)
3. Altitude/Speed at landing flap selected (This is used to monitor final configuration changes and also excessive flap extension speed (stressing the flaps).
4. Flaps 3 vs. Flaps 4 usage and trending (A319/320/321) used to monitor adherence to configuration 3 vs. configuration full landings (i.e. managed approaches for fuel conservation).
5. Aircraft Gate Wait by airport (used to monitor when aircraft sit at the approach to a gate and are not marshalled in, looks at throughput efficiencies of ground staff and can be used to access operational cost related to crew time/pay; passenger missed connections etc.).
6. Single Engine Taxi Usage (pure and apples Fuel savings).
7. Thrust Reverser Usage (used to look at adherence to Idle Thrust on landing and Fuel savings)
8. Brake Temperatures at landing and TO (used to look at the brake temperatures after landing at hot airports and to identify hot airports with quick turn rounds that are stressing the brake systems.)
9. Trim issues in cruise (used to compute the excess fuel burned by aircraft with poor trim characteristics and compute saving in fuel if Trim issues / sensors corrected).
10. Percentage Fuel burn difference Eng 1 to Eng 2. Used to identify aircraft with inefficient engines in cruise so that can be routed to short haul, also used to identify efficient aircraft which are suited for Long haul flight.
11. Runway degradation study (used to determine runways that have deteriorated to the point where it is showing up on the FDM program (Runway maintainers and airport authorities/engineering companies would be interested in this tool.

Mr. Attou went on: The main aim is to unlock the potential of Big Data. Understanding the customers’ ‘DNA’ is transforming airlines’ services, as every time a mobile phone is switched on, a product bought online or a comment made on Facebook, a trail of electronic information is laid down that can be collected, sliced, diced, and analyzed by those who have access to it. This is beyond business intelligence. Collating data to produce reports and identify strategy is about planning for the future”. He went on, “Big Data is the ‘cusp of the next evolution’ in the field of information and data management. Big Data, as understood and accepted by most today, is high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety information assets which can create substantial economic value and help with operations, decision-making, risk management and customer service. So what can an airline REALLY do? Firstly, I think it should STOP thinking how to make more money from its passenger and change its mind-set to what can it do to add more value for its customers. Secondly, with Big Data and real-time processing ability, it is no longer about one size fits all.

“Additionally, in-flight merchandising and inflight advertising are two natural elements to this chain of thought, but not just random one-size-fits-all advertising. In-flight social networking and in-flight entertainment are not too far behind. “Constant connectivity” – a primary human requirement that changed the world of telephony from fixed line to mobile to smart mobile is yet another value driver. Airline ancillary revenue should not just be about baggage fees or unbundling, but should aim to create value propositions based on increasingly real-time information about customer preferences and needs and using that information for targeted services. For a new entrant, Abdou Attou has our attention, and should have yours too!

Lastly, we were curious about the competition and Abdou told IFExpress, “…None have the approach on data importance we bring to the table, as Wisscom tries to bring some intelligent answers to the following questions that airlines can start asking themselves.”

Are all the passengers going to need roaming facilities on their mobile phones when they travel away from their native land? Can we help them lower their roaming charges or make free calls via the web? Can we help establish ecommerce on board aircrafts with SKYMALL concept?
Inflight advertising? But caution must be exercised to do it tastefully and without intrusion. Mixing it with free Wi-Fi access and premium inflight entertainment could make it seem reasonable. One could target teenagers and low fare customers before premium passengers in a personalized manner.
Do airlines just want to focus on core-competency of operating flights – safely, can they outsource pre-flight, inflight and post-flight ancillary operations to an entrepreneur with the highest potential? When you can outsource back-office operations, why not ancillary revenue operations? United Airlines with partnership with DirectTV, and Singapore Airlines’ Krishop being operated by DFASS are just two shining examples of the potential opportunities. With Airlines collecting valuable passenger information, these outsourcing partners can generate substantially higher values than the airlines can do themselves.

In closing Mr. Attou told us, “So, Wisscom can put back the romance and adventure in flying that it once was? It’s time to get creative and move up the value chain. The next generation of passengers demand not just a flight but an experience, a personalised one at that.” You can reach Mr. Attou at: abdou.attou@wisscom.co.uk. And check out www.wisscom.co.uk and the linked presentation.