Winter 2023

All Sky, No Limits

Software and aviation company owner David Natinsky allowed his new CJ3+ to be used for SmartSky’s Model 525 Citation STC. He talked openly to EVA about the service he receives

SmartSky CEO and Director Dave Helfgott was big on enthusiasm and short on voice when EVA spoke with him late on Wednesday afternoon at NBAA-BACE 2023 in Las Vegas. If anything, his enthusiasm for SmartSky’s air-to-ground connectivity product has grown stronger now that the service is delivering to business aviation customers, but his voice had suffered after two days of back-to-back meetings; not only is SmartSky delivering, but it is busy too.
Happy hour at a neighbouring booth made a formal interview impossible, and we agreed that the story of ‘SmartSky – the reality’, rather than ‘SmartSky – the promise’, was best told by a customer. Helfgott suggested David Natinsky, a CJ3+ owner/pilot and co-owner of Stature Aviation, with bases at Addison Airport and Fort Worth Meachum Airport, Texas. Natinsky has become something of a spokesperson for SmartSky but just a few words with him were sufficient to judge that he was never going to toe a party line. Moreover, SmartSky made it clear that they would not be on the call.
Working alongside his brother, Natinsky has been in the software business for three decades, creating management systems for the promotions industry. Around 15 years ago, his wife bought him a ‘discovery flight’. He was hooked. “I learned to fly in the Cirrus world and met a Challenger 604 pilot who became a good friend. I got to build hours, fly ‘big metal’ and learn the real world of flying. One day the sales director of where I learned to fly called and said there wasn’t really a good flight school in the Addison/Dallas Fort Worth area, so we started a company – Stature Aviation – as a Cirrus training centre.
“After two years we became Addison’s official Cirrus training centre and now we’re Dallas Fort Worth’s too. We also manage airplanes, with around 30 right now, and have a fleet of nine SR20s for training. My partner runs it, but the company keeps me in the aviation mix and that means I don’t always have to fly as a solo pilot. I got to fly with lots of people and lots of people came flying with me and that took me to a whole different level as a pilot.”
As a result, Natinsky really knows aviation and technology. He still flies the Challenger occasionally as a contract pilot and has a Vision Jet type rating, primarily for moving customer aircraft, since Stature Aviation also sells Cirrus and other models. Previously a long-time Citation M2 owner, Natinsky switched to the CJ3+ in 2023.

SmartSky relationship
When it came to equipping the brand-new jet, he says he refused to consider installing ‘old technology’, especially when development is moving so quickly. “I couldn’t take a $10 million airplane, put a system in it and then listen to complaints because it didn’t always work. That meant I was either going to find and install something that I was happy was going to work, or I was going to wait a year or two until something came along that made more sense for me. The existing option was good, I just needed more.”
Natinsky’s first contact with SmartSky was at NBAA-BACE 2022, when he was still deciding on a connectivity solution for his forthcoming CJ3+. “I walked up to the booth and just happened to start talking to an engineer. He was really excited about the product but wasn’t there as a salesperson. I’m a fairly technical guy and I got so much information from him.”
Other than the company’s assurance, when Natinsky opted for SmartSky there was no real guarantee that it would perform as promised. Beyond that, he also allowed his CJ3+ to become the certification aircraft for the SmartSky Lite STC on the Model 525 series. “I spent a lot of time understanding what that meant, if test flying was required on an experimental ‘ticket’ [it wasn’t], and asking why much of the wiring couldn’t be done during the build process. I learned about all of that, and the fact that I was going to take delivery, fly it for a couple of days and then return it to Wichita for them to take the interior out and start drilling holes in my airplane.”
There were lots of technical meetings before initial aircraft delivery was made in May 2023. Natinsky duly returned the CJ3+ and it remained in Wichita, Kansas, for a few weeks while Textron worked on the install. The relationship with SmartSky was excellent throughout and Natinsky comments: “At the time I wondered if they were treating me so well because I was providing an aircraft for their certification but looking back I think it’s just the type of company they are.”
He describes the customer service through the install process as ‘great’, noting that SmartSky answered his many questions. “They needed me and my airplane of course, but they also showed me a thick pile of engineering documents, shared all this testing they’d done on where the antenna should be and how it should look, and I knew the FAA was behind it too. They weren’t just throwing some stuff on an airplane and hoping it’d work.”
After a redelivery event in June, Natinsky took the aircraft out on his first trip. The system worked badly and he was understandably concerned. “It was a Friday, and I was leaving next day for North Carolina. Saturday morning, a Honeywell technician called with some advice and then someone from SmartSky called and said he’d meet me at the FBO in North Carolina. I spent another 10 minutes on the phone with Honeywell, we tweaked a few things and since then the service has been perfect.”
Interestingly, Natinsky regularly flies into Fort Myers, typically 100-150 miles out over the Gulf of Mexico and he might cruise at 43,000ft, a scenario that he says ought to push SmartSky’s service envelope and yet he enjoys extremely consistent connection.

Cockpit and cabin
In the CJ3+’s cockpit, SmartSky enables access to real-time information on weather and other data, including important airport updates. “At airports with ‘digital ATIS’ I don’t have to wait to find out about runway changes or delays, because I have the information early and I have the data that allows me to think through the landing long before the airport. I like to be ahead of the game,” Natinsky enthuses.
“I’ve also made many phone calls over SmartSky, with zero latency and good quality. When I have another pilot with me, one of us can call the FBO and tell them we’re running late, arrange a car, or whatever, instead of doing it over the radio. Being able to make a call and have a conversation is great. And then the other big-ticket item for me is live radar, in addition to the aircraft radar and ADS-B ‘radar’, which means I can get lots more information on weather and avoiding storms. It’s just a really useful way to access tools and services that I can’t access any other way.
“And just being connected is important, whether it’s a business trip or I’m flying my family. Even on a two-hour flight you want to be available and contactable if there’s a problem but also, my inbox can fill up quickly. If I can delete a bunch of ‘spam’ messages and maybe respond to questions that need a simple answer, then I land with a clearer head. I’m still a pilot at that point, so it’s just about taking advantage of some of the tools when it’s safe for me to do that.
“For the people in the back it’s about working and being caught up when they land. It’s a huge advantage. I’ve done maybe 15 business trips so far in the CJ3+ with everyone in the back working on their laptops, confident that they’ll have reliable service.”
Natinsky is happy with every aspect of SmartSky’s service but identifies one feature that stands out in his experience. “They don’t ‘throttle’ or block anything. We’ve got on our corporate VPN at 37,000ft, onto our corporate network, with no problem. I never expected that level of capability. I just didn’t want to see the blue line stop halfway when I sent a message. I thought it would be perfect if I could make a call using my own number. That was it. But calls, text messaging, live streaming in HD, FaceTime, all work with no issue. One time, my son FaceTimed me from the cabin and when I looked back at him I could see the latency was tiny, even though the call was going to the ground and back up. It’s awesome!”