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Connectivity Pentastar

Connectivity: The Sky is No Longer the Limit

One of the underappreciated but increasingly important elements of the private aviation experience is connectivity. The ability of travelers to stay connected can shift very quickly from a luxury to an expectation, and the depth and breadth of Pentastar Aviation’s connectivity services and solutions reflects that. We firmly believe that lightning-fast connectivity should have no bounds, and our avionics team is keenly focused on making sure that our clients and professional partners have access to the full spectrum of cutting-edge in-flight connectivity options.

We recently sat down with two members of the connectivity team to learn more about what Pentastar has to offer, how we work with clients to make sure they stay connected in flight in a way that meets their individual needs, and how connectivity impacts their flying experience. We asked Rick Sieg, Director of Managed Client Services, and Mike Peterson, Avionics Sales and Engineering Manager, to tell us about what Pentastar has to offer.

Mike, the world of aviation connectivity is nothing new to you, correct?

That’s right—my avionics background goes all the way back to the United States Navy where I served as an aircraft electrician. After my enlistment I studied Avionics Technology at Blackhawk Technical College in Janesville, Wisconsin and then spent 35+ years focusing on avionics sales, most recently as a Senior Avionics Sales Specialist for Gulfstream Aerospace.

So you’ve seen it all, then?

Well, I’ve certainly had a front-row seat to watch as the industry has evolved, and to see how the extraordinary advances in avionics technology have translated into the private sector. As a professional in this space, it’s very exciting.

Rick, what is your role at Pentastar?

As the Director of Client Services, I’m responsible for our managed fleet. One of my primary responsibilities is navigating what’s out there, making sure Pentastar’s clients have access to the latest and greatest tech, and working with them to offer suggestions and recommendations.

What’s the first question you get from clients regarding connectivity?

Connectivity is the hot ticket item, for sure. Personal communication systems on aircraft have been around for quite some time now, but it has traditionally been extremely slow—at least compared to what we’ve all come to expect at home or in our day-to-day lives when we aren’t 30,000 feet up. But that has all changed—and quickly. In just the last few years the speeds of service available while flying have increased dramatically. It’s truly remarkable how far we’ve come. Most folks who fly private today expect their planes to be an extension of their home or office environment when it comes to connectivity. And the good news is that we can largely make that happen.

Mike, from your perspective, what does that technology and innovation look like—and how does it translate to client experience?

So much of the conversation in aviation today revolves around connectivity. There’s an extraordinary range of products out there in the expanding ecosystem of connectivity tech. But the first questions we ask clients to make sure we are providing them with the connectivity solution are all about the aircraft mission and Customer expectations—and those questions are designed to make sure they are making an informed decision about how much they want to spend and what they will be getting for their investment. Those questions range from where do you fly, how far and how often, and whether or not they travel internationally—which may require a different solution. We also ask basic usage profile questions such as how much data they typically use and what they are likely to be doing while connected in the air. Mostly just email and light web browsing? Streaming movies? If kids are involved, will they be playing games? How many devices are likely to be onboard and connected at any one time?

Rick, Mike talked about cost. Obviously, the answers to those usage questions will inform your recommendation as to what kind of connectivity solution is right for them, but what kind of investment can aircraft owners expect to spend for a solution?

The good news is that not only has the tech accelerated dramatically, but because there are so many options and so many providers today, competition has created better options and better pricing. Up-front you can expect to spend anywhere from $250,000 to $750,000 to install the connectivity infrastructure on your airplane. The big question is how much an aircraft owner is comfortable spending on data. That number can run into the tens of thousands of dollars monthly for frequent flyers and heavy data users, so it’s not something to be taken lightly. Some aircraft owners just want to know that they have enough signal so their streaming video won’t buffer or break up—but others tell us that they could have millions of dollars at stake with time-sensitive transactions and they literally cannot afford to not have a lightning-fast connection at all times when flying.

Mike, how does Pentastar make sure those clients have access to that kind of connectivity?

One of the things that makes Pentastar such an impactful player in this space is that we can install almost any solution that is compatible with your aircraft. There’s no install too complex. We also invest a great deal of time, money, and human capital into making sure we are keeping up with the latest and greatest available tech. We assure our clients that we can offer the most complex and technologically advanced solutions on the market. We manage certification, engineering, installing, and servicing for phones and connectivity systems for both satellite and ATG (air to ground) communications.

And all of that is handled in-house?

Absolutely. Pentastar’s avionics technicians hold Satcom Direct aeroIT certifications for configuration and troubleshooting of networks and satcom systems onboard aircraft. And I myself serve on the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA) connectivity committee, which convenes representatives from aviation companies and system experts at biannual meetings to engage in knowledge sharing and best practices around the latest and greatest cutting-edge solutions.

What do some of those solutions look like?

There are ATG systems like SmartSky and Gogo, which use a ground-based signal from a ground-to-air tower. They typically offer in the neighborhood of 8-25 mbs (which is usually enough to stream with). There are also larger and more powerful satellite systems like Viasat, Honeywell, or Starlink which may require larger antennas. Those can deliver up to 200 mbs, depending on the system. Unlike ATG systems, which typically require the aircraft to reach a certain height before becoming operational, satellite-based solutions are available as soon as power is connected to your aircraft. The ability to work from power up to power down is appealing to many clients. All of these solutions must be heavily vetted and tested and approved by the FAA before they can be certified and installed.

Rick, why is Pentastar ultimately the right partner to help aircraft owners choose between all those different options?

In part because connectivity is a core element in our holistic service model, along with other necessities like aircraft maintenance and servicing. We have quite a diverse fleet of managed aircraft—and we have one of just about everything installed on at least one aircraft when it comes to connectivity. So when we talk to our clients, we speak with firsthand insight and expertise. Pricing, connection speed, provider service model, or sales options all might inform our recommendations, but we are fundamentally agnostic. The ultimate goal is to make sure our clients have the best possible connectivity at the best possible price point to meet their needs.