How Viasat’s Business Aviation team adapts to evolving aircraft certification procedures
Certifying systems for use on aircraft is a complex process. As a provider of in-flight connectivity services, complying with strict aviation safety regulations is a vital part of what we do at Viasat. Here’s how we do it.
Every time a company wants to manufacture a new type of product – no matter how small or mundane – for use onboard an aircraft, it must ensure compliance with the strictest of regulatory safety standards and secure what is known in the industry as a “supplemental type certificate” — or STC.
Viasat has been through this stringent process numerous times, successfully certifying our in-flight connectivity systems and proving their airworthiness on a constantly expanding list of aircraft types. What goes on behind the scenes to ensure that our systems meet all FAA safety requirements is a crucial part of what we do, and it involves a dedicated team of engineering professionals capable of adapting to an ever-evolving set of standards.
It is thanks to the highly skilled work of the Business Aviation (Biz Av) team that the hardware supporting Viasat’s Ku-band and Ka-band in-flight Wi-Fi services for business aviation is now FAA certified for use on more than 20 different types of business aircraft and counting.
In December 2020, the team completed the newest certification of Viasat’s Ka-band terminal on the Bombardier Challenger 300 and 350. This is an especially notable achievement given the majority of the work was carried out in the middle of a global pandemic. Here’s a glimpse into the challenges of earning FAA certification on Viasat’s Ka-band terminal.
Above all, safety
If there is one thing we’ve learned as an avionics provider, it is that the first and most important goal in designing anything for use on an aircraft is safety. It doesn’t matter if you’re making coffee pots or ailerons, all of the questions raised by the regulators point back to the central aim of the entire certification process: Is this a safe product?
From the very beginning, every component of every product must be designed with the goal of safety and airworthiness in mind. A checklist of questions must be meticulously ticked off. For instance, how will the terminal interact with multiple other systems on the aircraft? Will it create electromagnetic interference? Is it susceptible to extremely low ambient temperatures at high altitude?
A tremendous amount of design engineering and testing work is carried out before a manufacturer such as Viasat is ready to take a product to market. Then comes the challenge of identifying a candidate aircraft to test the product or system on the ground as well as in flight to ensure that the system performs as expected.
In the case of Viasat’s now complete FAA Certification for the Bombardier Challenger 350, for example, we were fortunate to partner with an owner/operator of an aircraft based out of the San Francisco Bay area.
The mission of Business Aviation is to support its customers’ changing global communication requirements. The aircraft must be equipped to deliver highly capable internet connectivity while in flight to, over, and within countries all over the world — each with their own regulations. It is not simply a case of receiving an STC from one regulator and calling it good. The process must be repeated several times to satisfy the differing requirements of other global regulators. For the Challenger 300 and 350 Program, the team was able to achieve full EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) certification just weeks after completing all FAA requirements.
Additionally, aviation safety regulations are themselves a moving target, constantly evolving to take account of incidents involving aircraft all over the world. Lessons are learned from every safety incident, and rules are adapted accordingly.
As we plan for our upcoming ViaSat-3 satellite constellation, we are aiming to have tremendous Ka-band capacity on a global scale, enabling us to supply service to large-cabin business jets. This may give a business traveller flying from the United States to Europe robust in-flight connectivity, but it is also important for us to serve an executive making a shorter hop from Los Angeles to Houston for a meeting. That means we’ll look to add smaller aircraft types in the future.
Much work has been done, but there remains plenty more to do. We are confident our experience will serve us well as we work toward securing STCs on an even greater variety of aircraft platforms. It’s one of the elements necessary to ensuring a wide a range of business aviation users have access to high-quality, high-speed in-flight broadband.