UPDATED to include comment from radome manufacturer Saint-Gobain
The FAA’s heightened scrutiny of bird strike testing on Ku- and Ka- band antenna radomes has certainly slowed some inflight connectivity installation projects at airlines, but according to JetBlue Airways, sequestration – the automatic government spending cuts that went into effect earlier this year – has had a “more material impact” on the timeline for retrofitting its aircraft.
New York-based JetBlue is poised to launch Ka-band inflight connectivity from its subsidiary, LiveTV, and satellite operator ViaSat. “Getting the STC [supplemental type certificate] and going through that process with sequestration earlier this year – and we’re facing it again with the [government’s] fiscal year closing in October – has meant that assets and resources at the FAA are moveable. So we deal with it, we work with it, but [sequestration] has had a more material impact on our program than any additional scrutiny by the FAA on the design and testing of the radome,” says JetBlue VP of corporate communications Jenny Dervin.
“Sequestration is real,” she adds, noting, “When it hit air traffic control, it became real for everyone, but the number of projects at the STC level, I would venture to say they have all been impacted at some point by available FAA resource, which we are treating as ‘life in the big city’. We’re very careful not to promise timelines that are beyond our control when you factor in the FAA timeline, so while [connectivity STC] is later than we’d like, we’ll follow the process and not gripe about it.”
JetBlue intends to launch inflight Wi-Fi – including a free service tier – before the end of the year “and we really look forward to debuting the service”, says Dervin. General Dynamics has developed and produced the tri-band radomes that will cap JetBlue’s Ka-band connectivity antenna and its Ku-band live television antenna.
The same General Dynamics radome – and LiveTV/ViaSat Ka-band connectivity system and service – will be gradually fitted to the Continental Airlines portion of the United Airlines Boeing fleet. These United-Continental 737s currently carry LiveTV’s latest generation LTV3 live television offering and Saint-Gobain-manufactured radomes. The aircraft also happen to be the focus of a new proposed FAA airworthiness directive (AD), which was issued by the agency last week after cracks were discovered in the Saint-Gobain-made radomes during inspection.
As previously reported, the current AD is only applicable – in the US – to the United-Continental 737s fitted with LTV3. “LiveTV technicians are working with the airline customer technicians to ensure inspection and correction,” says Dervin, noting that LiveTV “has replaced all the suspect radomes at no cost to the customers”.
Dervin says there is “no indication” that the AD will be extended to the Airbus fleet (JetBlue operates LiveTV-equipped Airbus and Embraer aircraft), “although if it is, we will comply perfectly”.
She adds, “It’s fair to say that from the JetBlue side we’re being proactive and from the LiveTV side we’re being proactive, communicating with our airline customers, coordinating efforts, making sure that everyone is up to date on the test information. It’s just good business.”
Saint-Gobain says it is committed to serving its customers and to its ongoing, cooperative partnership with the FAA. “The company is bound by confidentiality agreements which preclude us from providing comment in response to your inquiry.”
Canadian carrier WestJet operates Boeing 737s with LiveTV’s older generation live television system. WestJet could not be immediately reached for comment.
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