As the future of the connected aircraft evolves, so does the expectation of the technology behind it. Performance demands are increasing and seamless connectivity is a must. It is not just in the cabin, where passengers demand Wi-Fi access, but it is critical for real-time, secure, information flow into the cockpit, to the control tower, and from the aircraft to the airport network.

According to The Correctly Connected Aircraft by Inmarsat, broadband level connectivity requires three data domains, recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to realize the true cost benefits of connectivity.


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Connecting the entire aircraft is a complex task. While commercial airliners believe in the future of the connected aircraft, additional education is needed to understand how to fully connect the critical areas of the aircraft to reach the full potential of benefits. The first step is to understand that there are three distinct data domains in every aircraft, each of which varies in terms of criticality and connectivity requirements.

connected aircraft

The Aircraft Control Domain (ACD):

The most critical of domains, the Aircraft Control Domain (ACD) is data specific for the safe operation of the aircraft. From ground to aircraft, and real-time secure communications in-flight, connectivity to ensure constant communications and data delivery is crucial to the safety and efficiency of air travel. Due to its high level of criticality, data needs to be accessed and exchanged at any time, in-flight, anywhere, in any weather condition or anomaly.

Continuous advanced connectivity from ground to air enables navigation and surveillance (CNS) data for air traffic management (ATM), flight information and alerting, and direct Airline Operations Communications (AOC), which can impact aircraft safety and efficiency. This allows more planes to safely fly in the sky, increasing capacity of flight routes. In the past 15 years, CNS delivered $890 million in additional value to airlines through increased airspace capacity on transoceanic routes, according to one study.

The Airline Information Services Domain (AISD)

This domain includes the data for the operation of the aircraft, but does not have a bearing on the control of the aircraft, so while it is operationally important, it is not mission critical.

A properly connected AISD leverages data that can digitally transform the way airlines operate, increasing efficiencies from cabin to flight crew. Reliable connectivity to receive data on weather conditions, report on engine and system performance, delivering information on technical issues before landing, all require that this network is separate from the passenger-accessed networks.  It also allows for airlines to make updates across entire fleets more effectively.

The Passenger Entertainment and Network Services Domain (PIESD):

This domain can comprise multiple systems that interconnect, such as passenger device connectivity systems and broadband television or connectivity systems.

There is no doubt that the passenger experience is critical to the commercial airlines’ bottom line. In a recent interview with Frederik van Essen, Senior Vice President, Aviation Strategy and Business Development at Inmarsat about the Sky High Economic Report, he points out that spotty Wi-Fi availability has quickly established itself among the top airline complaints. In fact, 44 percent of respondents in the Sky High survey said they’d leave their airline of choice due to poor Wi-Fi connections. High-quality Wi-Fi is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

Airlines that do this right will maximize incremental and long-term revenues. Delivering broadband quality connectivity into the passenger cabin will not only enhance the passenger experience, but present opportunities to deliver brand engagement and personalized services that build stronger relationships and loyalty with customers.

Correctly Connecting the Aircraft:

Airlines looking to achieve real-time, broadband-quality connectivity for the connected aircraft experience, must first realize that each of these three domains exist and each have specific requirements and levels of importance. To address each of these domains, airlines needs to consider a solution that offers high bandwidth, low cost, high reliability and a redundant infrastructure with wide coverage around the globe.

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Shany Seawright

About Shany Seawright

A senior executive at Strategic Communications Group and Managing Editor of Connected Aviation Today, as well as other publications, Seawright oversees the editorial direction of the publication and managed the editorial staff.