The Challenger challenge

How Viasat secured regulatory approvals on Bombardier’s best-selling business jet during the pandemic


Every Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) that Viasat receives is a source of great pride for the company. But the recent success in certifying our Ka-band in-flight connectivity service for use on the Bombardier Challenger 300 and 350 business jets was a particularly proud moment.

The bulk of the work undertaken to achieve this milestone was carried out during the COVID-19 pandemic, when normal working practices had to be reimagined as travel restrictions came into force and our homes suddenly doubled up as our places of work.

Program and system engineering milestones, which normally would have been achieved quite literally shoulder-to-shoulder with Bombardier’s team members, had to be conducted via Zoom. When there are hundreds of detailed technical drawings to pore over, I can tell you from personal experience that doing it all virtually was no mean feat.

Added to that, our suppliers often were functioning with reduced workforces because the health crisis had forced many to furlough staff. All of this highlights the extent to which the pandemic really did create a perfect storm for businesses to navigate.

The irony of how big a challenge the COVID-19 crisis made the process of certifying a system for an aircraft named ‘Challenger’ was not lost on me. However, my Viasat co-workers proved that with determination, dedication and effort, anything is possible.

From first announcing that Viasat would bring enhanced cabin connectivity to Bombardier’s Challenger 300 and Challenger 350 business jets in July 2020 to receiving STC approvals from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in April 2021, the whole process took less than a year.

Given that we had a pandemic to contend with, this was an astonishing achievement.

Every member of the Viasat team stepped up to the challenge. As team leader, I could not be prouder of what we achieved. Not only did we win STC approvals from both the FAA and EASA in quick succession during a global crisis, we did so using a newly developed, first-of-type Viasat Business Aviation Router.

This is a really exciting next step for Viasat on our business aviation journey, and it means we will be able to fully exploit the benefits the upcoming ViaSat-3 satellite constellation will bring.

With Viasat’s Ka-band in-flight connectivity system now approved for installation on in-service Challenger 300 and Challenger 350 business jets, as well as on brand-new Challenger 350s, the passenger experience on what was already Bombardier’s best-selling aircraft just got even better.

Regulatory approval clears the way for operators of those aircraft to have Viasat’s Global Aero Terminal 5510 installed, enabling them to offer passengers a top-flight in-cabin internet experience that matches what they have come to expect in their own homes. The terminal communicates with Viasat’s ViaSat-1, ViaSat-2 and KA-SAT satellite platforms, and is expected to be forward-compatible with Viasat’s next-generation satellite system, ViaSat-3.

Challenger operators also will be able to take advantage of Viasat’s “no speed-limit” service – our fastest, most robust business aviation in-flight connectivity offering in the super mid-size business jet market. Last July, Viasat announced it had removed internet speed limits delivered to aircraft across all its business-aviation Ka-band service plans.

The move was an industry first that enabled passengers and crew to simultaneously use business-critical productivity and entertainment apps, such as video-conferencing and high-definition streaming services, throughout all phases of flight and across the world’s most heavily traveled flight routes.

With stay-at-home orders having forced us all to become more reliant than ever on these services when we are on the ground, passengers will expect a similar experience in the air as we emerge from the pandemic. The timing, therefore, of Viasat’s recent STC approvals and the removal of speed limits could not have been better.

Elza Brunelle-Yeung, Senior Director of Products, Pricing and Digital for Bombardier’s Service and Support and Corporate Strategy organization, agrees. She said the aircraft manufacturer was excited to offer its customers the Viasat Ka-band system, noting that it “provides enriched in-flight connectivity for passengers and crew in all phases of flight.” Brunelle-Yeung added that this enhanced connectivity “further elevates the unmatched cabin experience and smooth ride aboard our Challenger 300-series aircraft.”

Note: “No speed limit” means that there is no cap set on the speed delivered to a terminal. Speeds may still be limited by terminal equipment capabilities, network and environmental conditions, and other factors.

Ian Douglass is a program and technical account manager, Business Aviation at Viasat.