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Report: IFC rebounding

March 3, 2023

By Chris Forrester

Challenges created for business and leisure travellers during the pandemic are fast becoming a distant memory. A report from Constellations says that In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) is moving to “new heights”.

John Peterson, Executive Director of Aviation at satellite operator Iridium, says that technological and economic changes are overcoming some of the unique challenges of in-air connectivity and will help drive the sector’s anticipated growth.

According to Euroconsult, aero connectivity for travellers is poised for a take-off, with the terminal market expected to show the highest growth rate among SATCOM applications, with a 12 per cent 10-year compounded annual growth rate.

Peterson explained the industry’s two distinct aero connectivity needs, which started with L-band for safety, for pilots to talk with air traffic control to get from point A to B safely and on-time. L-band is reliable, providing clear voice in all-weather but is very low data. For context, Peterson noted that at one time “smoking fast internet service” was 64 kilobits per second, with people paying as much as $18 a megabyte on a business jet.

Thankfully, those high costs are long gone and it isn’t just wealthy individuals who want in-flight connectivity. The biggest change, Peterson said, has been increasing capacity, with Starlink and other constellations making higher frequency Ka and Ku band popular for in-cabin use.

“When you see costs in the cabin space going from dollars per megabyte to pennies per megabyte, the affordability and the value it brings to passengers just drive the model,” Peterson said. “Just like we’re seeing with a safety service over a phone, we’re going to see the aviation community use more reliable satellite links that work everywhere in the world seamlessly as opposed to the traditional clunky VHF towers that have been out there since World War II.”

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