Staying connected in flight is not easy, since most cell phones are useless above about 500 feet and installed WiFi systems cost nearly $100,000. There are some decent portable options, especially if you’re mostly interested in sending text messages, as we’ve covered before on iPad Pilot News. These typically use the Iridium satellite constellation, which is limited in terms of data speed but has the benefit of worldwide coverage at all altitudes. A portable satellite communicator is ideal for updating friends and family when your ETA changes or for tracking flights in remote areas.
Now there’s a new player in this market. ACR Electronics, a well-known manufacturer of personal locator beacons, has launched the Bivy Stick to offer affordable messaging and SOS alerting. About half the size of a typical smartphone, the Bivy is small enough to fit in your pocket or be clipped to a flight bag. It is even compatible with GoPro camera mounts, a thoughtful feature. The Bivy weighs less than 4 oz. but is a rugged little device, with just a few buttons along the side and a waterproof coating. You can check in or initiate an SOS from the device, making it a self-contained safety tool, but the real value is unlocked by pairing it to your smartphone.
Simply charge the battery, turn it on (with a clear view of the sky), and connect it to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. Since there’s no screen, the free Bivy app—available for iOS and Android—is the main way to communicate. This allows you to send pre-composed messages, check-in with contacts, type custom messages, or get point weather forecasts (not aviation-specific). You can even send an SOS message, which uses Global Rescue to coordinate search and rescue services. The app also has a variety of other features aimed mostly at hikers, including maps and trip sharing options.
Like all Iridium devices, Bivy requires a data plan and four options are offered. These range from $15/month to $65/month, depending on the features and number of credits (messages, weather reports, and tracking points all use credits). These are competitive with Garmin’s plans, although slightly higher. On the good side, there is no activation fee with Bivy and credits can be rolled over from month to month.
Overall, we think the Bivy offers a unique combination of features at an attractive price—it’s just $249.95. If you’re looking for a top-of-the-line device with aviation app integration, the Garmin inReach is the way to go and is a proven performer. But for a basic, affordable option that can stand up to abuse, it’s hard to beat the Bivy. There’s certainly no less expensive way to send text messages in flight.