SITA is expanding its aircraft communications service to serve short-haul aircraft by using the Iridium network. This key expansion to a potential market of 5,000 aircraft was announced to more than 30 airlines during the May meeting of the SITA AIRCOM User Group in Madrid and three have already committed to using the service.
The new SITA offering responds to airlines with short-haul fleets such as AIRBUS A320 and Boeing 737/757 that already have ACARS (Aircraft Communications, Addressing and Reporting System) avionics using the VHF link to access the AIRCOM service and which are equipped with the necessary avionics to access the service via the Iridium network. Many airlines are sending short-haul aircraft to more remote destinations where they may lose VHF voice radio access to pilots. The 66 Iridium satellites are in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), enabling the use of much lighter avionics than for communications via geo-stationary satellites. These lighter avionics can then be placed on the smaller aircraft that airlines are using to fly to remote locations. The Iridium avionics provide data capacity for ACARS communications and voice service of much better quality than the legacy HF radio that these short-haul aircraft need to use when outside VHF radio coverage. The satellites also provide coverage over the North and South Poles where HF was until now the only option. So the long haul aircraft that fly these routes will also benefit from being equipped to use Iridium. Philip Clinch, SITA Vice President Aircraft Communications, said: We are happy to be able to offer our customers a way to keep control of the short-haul aircraft which they are sending on more demanding routes. The airline interest is proven by the fact that three airlines had already signed to use this access option before it was officially launched. This SITA expansion of the AIRCOM service was enabled by a Distribution Agreement with Iridium signed in February. Iridium services are already used by thousands of business and government aircraft. The avionics vendors opened up the possibility of use by the broader air transport market in 2007 by developing interfaces to the airline industry standard ACARS. Aircraft will initially use Iridium to keep in touch with airline dispatchers and systems but Iridium has obtained ICAO adoption of standards specifying its interfaces and the use of the satellites is being validated by several Air Traffic Control agencies. Don Thoma, Vice President, Marketing, Iridium Satellite, said: Entering the short-haul market in partnership with a world-class aircraft communications provider such as SITA helps to cement our position as the number one provider of satellite communications to the aviation and aerospace sector with a market-leading 16,000 Iridium units installed. "As the only mobile satellite services provider with complete gap-free coverage over the entire planet, we are swiftly gaining market share and establishing Iridium services as the industry's gold standard. Traffic analyses for the first quarter of 2008 reveal impressive gains in subscribers and traffic over last year, with Iridiums installed base of aero terminals increasing by 51 percent, airtime usage for voice and circuit-switched data up 46 percent, and short-burst data (SBD) traffic rising 77 percent."