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Jetstar goes it alone on air-ground links

Jetstar goes it alone on air-ground links

Being a low-cost airline has forced Jetstar Airways to innovate when it comes to the technology it uses on its planes.

The rest of the world's airlines pay licensing fees to global groups SITA and ARINC to use the ACARS standard network, which provides wireless data links between planes and ground crews. But Jetstar last week revealed it was the first airline to have built its own system, saving money on licensing costs.

Jetstar chief information officer Stephen Tame said his group had unsuccessfully negotiated with both SITA and ARINC over the terms of using their systems. "We had a lot of difficulty getting these organisations to understand that we are a low-cost model," he said, adding that Jetstar would not pay licence fees for areas it did not fly to.

The private "PAGN" VHF wireless network built by Jetstar and Melbourne partner Aviation Data Systems (Aust) over the last 2 1/2 years at eight locations around Australia handles all data coming off Jetstar's Airbus A320 and A330 aircraft. The project encountered some delays as systems on board some planes had been configured to work only with either SITA or ARINC.

Tame said the network was scheduled to pay for itself within three years, based on a set-up cost of approximately $320,000.

In comparison, using the SITA or ARINC networks would have cost up to $180,000 a year.

The data network allows Jetstar to connect to its aircraft while in the air, transmitting and receiving information such as arrival and departure information and engineering reports.

ADS managing director Murray Joss said the system could also appeal to small aviation groups outside the airline market, such as mining companies which often flew to remote locations.

Other projects the chief information officer has on the boil include preparation for the now-delayed arrival of the Boeing 787 aircraft in 2009.

With the aircraft's arrival expected to bring a lift in passenger traffic, Jetstar was building up its IT infrastructure to handle the anticipated load, Mr Tame said. The 787 also requires specific technology to offload around 400 megabytes of data at the terminal after landing via a wi-fi wireless link. "It's really a flying piece of significant IT," Tame said.

Jetstar was working on 802.11 wireless links and other network and data caching infrastructure to accommodate the new planes, he said.

Also planned for 2008 was a network of web-style "point of presence" data centres to allow Jetstar's Citrix-based applications for ground handlers and other operations to be used around the world via the internet, without speed problems, Tame said.

"What the web world has been doing for years, we need to do in the virtual application world," he added. Data centres are being planned for the United States, Europe and Asia.

The project was expected to be the first of its kind for Citrix applications, Tame said.

© Fairfax Business Media

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Tags innovationcutting costData Centre

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