Intelsat launches broadband service aimed at military and government aircraft

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The service, called FlexAir, is targeted at government and military aircraft operators that only want to pay for the broadband they use, without having to make a long-term commitment.

WASHINGTON — Satellite communications provider Intelsat announced on Thursday it is launching a new in-flight broadband service aimed at military and government aircraft.

The service, called FlexAir, was the result of a year-long market study of military and government aircraft operators. The company concluded this market is under-served, Skot Butler, president of Intelsat General, told SpaceNews. “They want guaranteed availability of service wherever they go, even when they fly nonstandard routes, they want more coverage and capacity as well as high data rates.”

Potential customers also said they wanted flexible pricing based on their data rate and geographic needs without having to make an upfront commitment, Butler said. “They don’t fly 24/7, and don’t want to pay if they don’t use it.” The company will offer different pricing plans so customers only pay for what they need..

The service is compatible with some of the fuselage and tail-mounted antennas that are already in place aboard military-operated Gulfstream business jets and large cargo planes. “We have certified multiple antennas,” said Butler. The broadband service uses Intelsat’s Ku-band satellite fleet, and integrates layers of high-throughput satellite coverage from the company’s EpicNG fleet with wide-beam satellites for added redundancy. The military would likely employ the service for en route communications — for aircraft that operate like a flying office — and for tactical missions like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. For ISR applications such as sensor data, video transmission, and communications relay, the company offers 3 Mbps from the aircraft with an option to scale up to 6 Mbps.

Intelsat estimated that the potential market for in-flight broadband connectivity adds up to “thousands of aircraft,” said Butler. “We are counting aircraft that already have antennas installed or capable of hosting an appropriate antenna for our service.” In the military, that includes business jets, troop transports and special mission aircraft,

The telecommunications company COMSAT, which supplies services to the federal government, has signed a deal with Intelsat to market FlexAir to U.S. government aviation users and coalition partners.