Lufthansa Technik

Aruba helps German aviation giant bring wireless connectivity to the skies.

Lufthansa Technik AG is one of the world’s leading providers of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services. It is also a designer and manufacturer of technology for the aviation industry. “For instance, wireless infrastructure on board,” says Dr. Jan Remmer ter Haseborg, Head of Engineering, Original Equipment Innovation, Lufthansa Technik AG. “Ten years ago it was a VIP service, today wireless is basic infrastructure expected on any commercial aircraft.”

Ensuring relevance over a long product lifecycle

We have an intense relationship between our development engineers and the Aruba engineers. It’s very important we have this direct link. We need to be as early as possible on any development and technology topics. Dr. Jan Remmer ter Haseborg, Head of Engineering, Original Equipment Innovation, Lufthansa Technik AG

This is not to suggest creating wireless connectivity in the skies is simple. Where the consumer market tends to run on two-year product lifecycles (and is growing shorter), and industry expects five-to-seven years, the aviation sector is nearer eight-to-ten years.

“Which means we need a solution that will last, which can be updated and where there are the correct spare parts,” explains Dr. ter Haseborg. “In terms of solution providers, that reduces our options.”

If anything, he continues, the lengthy qualification and certification process, from airlines and industry regulators, is getting tougher. “This makes it vital that we have a strong relationship with a supplier’s engineering team. If there are any technical changes we need to be able to evaluate their impact. We can’t just go and buy a thousand access points from a no-name manufacturer without configuration control.”

Aruba support, engineering and commercials

Lufthansa Technik relies on Aruba technology to deliver its inflight wireless. “We’ve worked alongside Aruba since 2012,” says Tobias Janka, program manager, Lufthansa Technik. “We investigated lots of different technologies, along with the support, engineering and commercials, and Aruba made the strongest case.”

What proved crucial, continues Janka, was Aruba’s launch of its 802.11ac access point: “We’d been in dialogue for a couple of years before this, but the 11ac release was a huge step forward.”

This was thanks to the combination of 802.11ac performance with Aruba’s advanced software which provides controller-less operation, plus other features such as simple set-up, adaptive radio management and corrective coverage. In Lufthansa Technik tests, it outperformed the competition even before it had been optimised for aircraft use.

Lufthansa Technik was able to take parts of the core IAP-225 device, ruggedise it, add safety logic, an aircraft management interface and an aircraft-type power supply, and seal the lot into aviation-compliant airtight housing for stringent certification and qualification.

From novelty to expectation

Wireless connectivity has quickly grown from in-flight novelty to customer expectation. Lufthansa Technik anticipates passengers will continue to demand an in-flight experience that matches on-ground connectivity.

For airlines, in-flight wireless represents one of the best ways of engaging with the passenger. As passengers choose online to search, book and check-in for flights, in-flight connectivity creates a range of service options for airlines. Some are trialling alerts as to the location of the baggage collection point, or the ability to book taxis to meet passengers at arrivals.

Not every airline provides wireless for free. Many low-cost carriers use wireless as a revenue generator, long haul carriers may bundle limited wireless as part of the ticket price. Research suggest usage is 30-40% higher when free, with just a 5-6% take-up where passengers have to pay.

Long-term, many airlines are looking at stripping out seat-back screens (saving weight, along with fuel and maintenance costs), recognising that passengers would prefer to use their own devices to stream content. Airbus research estimates that 97% of passengers board with one device, while as many as one in five bring three.

A standalone, controller-less solution

Providing value-added services means providing sufficient bandwidth to a large number of clients with as few access points as possible, preferably no more than three access points in a single deck aircraft. Double deck aircraft like the Airbus 380 and Boeing 747 should have proportionally more Wireless Access Points.

“We were looking for a stand-alone, which means controller-less, professional wireless solution which allows high performance for many users,” says Dr. ter Haseborg. “Additionally, we were looking for a module which could be easily integrated from a mechanical, electronical and software point of view.

“We also liked the integrated antennas on the IAP-225, which allow us to build a new generation of wireless access points on board aircraft without additional cables and external antennas, which would increase the complexity of installation.”

One feature which ensures all passengers will enjoy high performance internet access with the minimum number of access points is the Aruba Airtime Fairness. This guarantees each user fair access to the network and helps optimise the cost of providing Wi-Fi and services onboard.

Easily configured for any airline

The Aruba technology makes it especially suited for the latest aircraft generations such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. The Lufthansa Technik Wireless Access Point is qualified to DO-160G. It was launched successfully in 2014.

The unit can be easily configured by airlines for their requirements for in-flight connectivity and entertainment systems. The solution offers airlines the ability to deliver high speed aircraft Wi-Fi for in-flight web browsing, multimedia streaming, real-time communications, point-of-sale applications, passenger gaming and other Internet-based services.

As the first aircraft access point available in the aviation market based on the Gigabit Wireless Standard (802.11ac, 1.3 Gbps) it allows faster video streaming and on-board Internet connections supporting more mobile devices on two independent radios. The device’s airtight housing hosts optimised internal antennas (3 x 3 MIMO antenna array) allowing easy installation and maintenance while relieving operators of the need for single antenna adjustments.

A reliable partner for the long term

Dr. ter Haseborg says while a great deal of work took place with Aruba ahead of the launch, contact is ongoing. “We have a relationship between our development engineers and the Aruba engineers. It’s very important we have this direct link. Despite the long lifecycles, we’re looking at future technologies. We need to be as early as possible on any development and technology topics.”

This matters, he says, because any slight changes may affect industry certification: “It is very valuable to us to have a partner, for the long term, who can provide us this certainty.”