Volume 01 | Issue 11 | August 18, 2020
Three Trends to Watch in Commercial In-Flight Connectivity

This week’s Future of Aerospace looks ahead at military use of quantum and neuromorphic computing as well as trends in commercial use of in-flight connectivity over the next five years.

And closer to the present, we examine what’s next for the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, which will sundown in October but for the past three years has structured progress toward more complex low-altitude operations in the United States.

This issue focuses on Connectivity, Longshots and Transformational Tech, and Unmanned Airspace Integration.

Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoy.

—The Future of Aerospace Team
What’s Next for the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program?
The FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), established three years ago by presidential memorandum to help craft policy around drones and low-altitude operations, will not be renewed when it expires on October 25.

Though the FAA and many participants argue the program has been extremely successful, enabling trials of medical delivery by drone at places like WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, the agency is far from accomplishing its goals and there is much work left to be done.

Rulemaking on remote ID is set to be published in December. Many other questions remain concerning requirements for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight, risk-based integration into densely populated areas, and how — as well as by whom — unmanned traffic management systems will be managed across the country.

So, what’s next for an agency that clearly needs more testing and more data to integrate UAS into the national airspace — and for IPP participants around the country, many of whom complain the FAA has not clearly communicated what data it needs and in what format?

We interviewed Basil Yap, UAS program manager for North Carolina’s Department of Transportation:
  • On what’s next: “I think FAA is very interested in continuing to work with all of the partners in some kind of capacity moving forward. We’ve obviously gotten this far and have been able to overcome many regulatory hurdles … everyone involved would hate to let those relationships expire, so to speak.”

  • On BVLOS: “In the case of BVLOS, one of the four focuses of the IPP, we have not made the progress we had hoped we would. Onboard detect-and-avoid tech for drones under 55 lbs just has not developed enough. We’re finding out it’s more difficult than we thought, because we keep uncovering new aspects of BVLOS we hadn’t thought of before.”

  • On data: “Over the last couple of months, the FAA has reassessed what data they have been collecting and what they need to collect moving forward. I think they’ve recognized some issues with this internally and are working to improve their process and communication.”

  • On making the benefit case: “One important part of the IPP is gathering evidence to demonstrate the economic and social benefits of drone operations. Socially, I think we’ve done that through medical and package delivery, but without scale, it’s very difficult to show the economic potential.”

  • On local and federal roles in UTM: “The IPP was also supposed to help determine the local role in managing low-altitude operations. We feel there was a unique role for the state and local government to play in addressing security, first responder concerns, and managing the airspace for events like a town fair that are handled at a local level already. This conversation with the FAA has begun, but has not completely taken place yet. “We’re hoping to work with the FAA to put out a set of rules defining what local and state level actors can and can’t do to help mitigate risk and maximize benefit … that’s really what we’re looking for.”
Though the IPP won’t continue in its current form, the FAA will find a new structure through which to continue the work on unmanned airspace integration.

FAA told us the following, mirroring much of what Yap shared: “Although the IPP ends in October 2020, the work continues. More work is needed to find adaptable solutions to address the technical challenges associated with beyond visual line-of-sight operations and detect-and-avoid capabilities. In addition, more information is needed on the economic and societal benefits of UAS and the best practices for community engagement. The FAA looks forward to advancing UAS integration with its IPP partners through existing partnership mechanisms or through new collaborative public-private partnerships.”

Those final three words may be important to the next phase of UAS integration.
How Far Out Are Quantum and Neuromorphic Computing?
As operators increasingly seek more processing power on aircraft and the rate of advancement for traditional computers slows, quantum and neuromorphic computing could play a role in future aerospace platforms.

Neuromorphic computing draws on biological principles of engineering to emulate the neural structure of the human brain.

Quantum computing relies on the properties of the basic building blocks of matter — electrons, neutrons and photons — and so-called "quantum bits," or "qubits," to conduct several operations at once and solve niche problems that today’s computers cannot.

We spoke to Michael Hayduk, deputy director of the Air Force Research Lab’s (AFRL) Informational Directorate, about military and aerospace applications of these technologies:
  • Due to size, weight and power (SWaP) restraints, neuromorphic processing is a nearer term effort than quantum computers, which hold significant promise but are “still very much in their infancy,” Hayduk said.

    “The state of the art right now are NISQ computers--Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum computers, and they have on the order of 50 to 100 qubits … "Getting past scalability issues, coherence issues, and noise issues are all things that need to be solved.”

  • Sensing pods and UAS are already receiving neuromorphic capabilities in test environments. AFRL has used IBM’s neuromorphic True North chip in a handful of field tests and exercises combined with other processors in an effort the lab calls “bringing artificial intelligence to the edge,” meaning to the warfighter.

    Quantum computing is more likely to be found in dedicated computing centers focused on big data problems, rather than “at the edge.”

  • Advances in sensing and GPS positioning via quantum computing are expected in the next five years, bringing precision navigation and timing to GPS-denied and degraded environments. Secure communications through quantum networks is farther off. “The different types of sensors that we’re looking at to be able to take advantage of those properties include inertial sensors, magnetometers, gravitational sensors, and electric field sensors.”
Shery Welsh, director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research: “With quantum science, we are on the cusp of a technology revolution, and the nation that can best apply quantum capabilities to communications, computing, sensing, and timing will have the upper hand.”

“It’s essential that nation be the United States.”

Dig deeper into what's next for quantum and neuromorphic computing.
Three Commercial IFC Trends to Watch Over the Next Five Years
Image: Virgin Atlantic

As the commercial aerospace industry prepares
to enter the final four months of 2020, Future of Aerospace analyzes three trends you should be monitoring over the next 12 months within the connected aircraft ecosystem, which has been heavily impacted by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Commercial IFC Trend #1 - Airline Business Models

COVID-19 has the potential to accelerate what was already inevitable: Changes to commercial airline in-flight connectivity (IFC) business models.

Right now, there is no real industry norm in terms of the cost charged to passengers for in-flight Internet access used by commercial airlines, they vary from region to region and airline to airline. A look at business models employed by some of the biggest names in Europe and North America provide some insight into this trend.
  • Air France, for example, is on track to equip its entire fleet of aircraft with Gogo 2Ku connectivity by the end of this year. Passengers onboard use “Air France Connect” to Wi-Fi enabled iMessage, WhatsApp and WeChat messaging for free. Tiered access to the Internet ranges from three Euros on short-haul flights to five Euros medium-haul and eight Euros for an entire long haul international flight.

  • On a Virgin Atlantic trip from London to New York for example, passengers pay £20.99 for the entire flight or the option of £8.99 by the hour, enabled by Inmarsat’s GX Aviation network.

  • “There’s a price a point, around the 20-25 or even 30-pound mark,”Mark Cheyney, Virgin Atlantic’s head of in-flight entertainment and connectivity said in recent interview on the Global Connected Aircraft Podcast. “For a full flight around the 20-30 pound mark is about where you can go, at 30 you’re realistically kind of at the limit.”
Commercial IFC Trend #2 - Next Generation Satellite Networks

Every major satellite network operator or service provider has a next generation network planned for availability within the next two to three years.
  • While the global communications company just introduced its Viasat-2 generation network in 2018 with 300+ Gigabits per second (Gbps) capacity, Viasat is already in the process of launching Visat-3, which promises more than 3-terabits per second of total network capacity from its satellites.

  • Inmarsat is moving forward with its plans to launch seven new satellites by 2023 as part of its future roadmap. Inmarsat’s current Global Xpress (GX) network features five geostationary Ka-band satellites in orbit, with GX 6A and 6B launching by 2021. Their GX 7, 8, and 9 satellites are on track for availability by 2023 and will feature the ability to dynamically adjust capacity and service support based on changes in demand with in-orbit repositioning and direct capacity shifted to high-demand airports and routes.

  • Panasonic Avionics Corp.’s Dec. 5, 2019 multi-year agreement for Ku-band capacity on two multi-beam payloads on the EUTELSAT 10B satellite, due to be launched in 2022. EUTELSAT 10B will be the second XTS satellite to join Panasonic’s connectivity network.
And these are just a few of the next generation satellite networks in development.

What’s the trend to monitor here?

How much merger and acquisition activity will COVID-19 introduce among commercial aviation IFC satellite service providers and what satellite companies find the sweet spot between the capacity and data charges they apply to airlines moving forward.

Commercial IFC Trend #3 - Flat Panel Antenna Technologies

There have been several compelling developments across the antenna supplier side of the IFC equation. Including a trend toward the introduction of designs that are lower in profile and adaptable to new satellite networks and constellations as they become available.
  • This trend was demonstrated by NXT Communications (NXTCOMM), the Atlanta-based supplier of a disruptive new high-capacity, flat panel satellite antenna that they promise can enable lower price points. That antenna is on track to start live in-flight testing later this year, according to a June 29 press release published by the company.

  • “The efficiency of our antenna is driven by the better math and better design of the antenna part that faces the satellite. We’re more efficient because we start from the side that faces the satellite,” said NXTCOMM CEO Dave Horton.

  • ThinKom, which makes Gogo’s 2ku antenna, has also been testing new Ku and Ka-band antennas that have confirmed “seamless interoperability across low-Earth orbit (LEO), medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and high-throughput geostationary (GEO) satellite constellations. The live on-air testbeds included OneWeb LEO, Telesat LEO 1 and SES’ GEO and O3b MEO satellites,” according to a June 24 press release.
Read more in-depth about these trends in connectivity.
Thank you for reading the Future of Aerospace, brought to you by Aviation Today.

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