- 13 Sep 2021
- René Armas Maes
- Aircraft Ownership
Connectivity is not an option aboard business jets that are available for charter – it’s an expectation. But how should you equip your jet with the right Wi-Fi and other cabin electronics to cater for the charter traveler? Chris Kjelgaard asks the experts…Back to Articles
The best cabin management systems for charter aircraft are those which are “easy to operate and maintain,” notes Eric Zipkin, Founder and President of Oxford, Connecticut-based scheduled and charter operator Tradewind Aviation. “There’s kind of a minimum standard [for CMS functionality] in the charter business, but then not a great deal more.”
However, from the viewpoint of a large MRO company which performs many cabin refurbishments, Kevin Kliethermes, Director of Sales for Flying Colours Corporation, doesn’t see charter aircraft CMS requirements in quite the same way. “From a charter perspective, people are becoming increasingly savvy.
“They like to have the bells and whistles, and they know how to operate them. The market is becoming more educated about the feature sets available,” he says.
“Charter operators want passengers to be able to use their devices to stream content to and from their phones; to stream to the bulkhead monitor; and to get the moving map [display] to their phones,” Kliethermes adds. But operators don’t “necessarily want passengers to be able to change the lighting [from their devices] or move the window shades up and down—that’s not a huge deal for a charter flight.”
However, an increasingly important CMS issue for charter operators is “control of the audio by the clients,” says Kliethermes. “How do I get that on the aircraft? I need Bluetooth capability. There is a movement to better audio systems, and Bluetooth [control] is increasing in popularity. It’s now in almost all Flying Colours refurbishment projects.”
From the owner’s standpoint, CMS choice “is a trade-off,” says Kliethermes. “Can you spend $1m or less and still provide all the functionality needed? The more complex [the CMS] is, there can be more potential issues. It’s always a difficult line to walk.”
Tips on Connectivity
Connectivity is “always top of the list” in terms of cabin requirements for charter aircraft, notes Kliethermes. “It’s very important for charter operators — it’s the difference between a customer booking or not booking an aircraft.
“Whatever the aircraft type happens to be, you book with the one that has the connectivity.”
Arguing against the need for charter operators to install very sophisticated cabin management systems in their aircraft, Zipkin says “Cabin entertainment is almost a thing of the past these days” — passengers prefer to bring their own electronic devices on board and stream content from those devices.
As a result, “Connectivity is more and more important: People expect it, and the next level is supporting two-way streaming to and from electronic devices.”
But while having broadband capability is a must now for charter aircraft, “You might not turn up the spigot completely, but you would want the ability to ratchet up” bandwidth over time, as wireless connectivity technology continues to evolve, and as customer demand gradually increases, Zipkin suggests.
“There are two ways to look at it. You can get the cheapest” workable option, “or you can get the best technology available in the longest run, going forward. That also speaks to your target horizon for [ownership of] the aircraft.” For example, if the owner plans to keep the charter aircraft for ten years, then they should install a connectivity system which can be upgraded throughout that ten-year period.
Duncan Aviation recommends Gogo’s AVANCE L5 terrestrial 4G cellular Wi-Fi system to its customers, says Ann Pollard, an Aircraft Sales and Acquisitions Representative for Duncan Aviation, as the system is able to offer streaming capability to and from multiple devices in the cabin.
However, Kliethermes says that today streaming is becoming much more important, so bandwidth is becoming much more important.” Satcoms connectivity is growing in popularity because of the higher bandwidths, lower rates per megabyte and greater area coverage provided.
Kliethermes says the cost-competitiveness of very high bandwidth satcoms will only increase further as more new entrants join the Business Aviation satcoms connectivity market. (The same goes for air-to-ground systems too.
“Competition will make it more palatable for high-bandwidth systems to be installed in smaller aircraft,” he predicts. “Today, we’re seeing it [being installed in aircraft] down below Bombardier Globals, into Bombardier Challengers.”
Of course, Gogo is reacting to the growing cabin connectivity competition. “Duncan Aviation is partnering with Gogo and is providing engineering and certification services for completion of the first-article Supplemental Type Certification (STC) for the Gogo 5G system,” Pollard says.
“Duncan Aviation will use the experience and data from certifying the first article to modify all of its full-equipment AVANCE L5 STCs to include Gogo 5G, which will cover more than 30 aircraft models,” enhancing the in-flight connectivity experience for passengers.
Tips on Lighting
Brightness, quality and passenger control of cabin lighting are increasingly important considerations for owners and operators of business aircraft operated on charter services.
“The lighter the cabin is, the better,” says Zipkin. “New charter customers are usually not accustomed to being in a smaller airplane. The better the lighting, the more you can surmount” the feeling passengers have of being in a small cabin environment.
“LED lighting is the way it is going,” Zipkin notes. “It is very, very nice to have in business jets. You get very much more longevity of components.”
Kliethermes agrees. “LED lighting is huge – all the old fluorescent lighting is being replaced. We’re seeing brighter lighting and brighter cabins.”
Moreover, Kliethermes is “seeing requests grow to handle lighting via phone apps, even for changing the coloring of the lighting — and even for some charter aircraft”. Interest from charter owners and operators in passengers being able to control cabin lighting levels and colors using their mobile phones “probably lags behind private [Part 91] a bit, but it’s a simple app download when you get on the aircraft.
“We’re definitely seeing that more and more,” he continues. “It’s not a first-time [customer] thing. But then, the customer becomes a long-term client and wants a particular aircraft because of the [lighting] options.”
Armed with tips from the experts relating to desired cabin electronics and connectivity functions within the cabin of an aircraft that you plan to make available for charter, be sure to read Part 3 of this series in which the cabin furnishings, galley, and luggage storage options are discussed…