Cabin Electronics for BizJets – A Buyers’ Guide

Cabin electronics are a crucial element of any modern business jet. Gerrard Cowan speaks to industry experts who point to a range of key considerations for operators when considering an upgrade…

Gerrard Cowan  |  08th June 2021
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Gerrard Cowan

Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who focuses on aerospace, defense and finance. He can be found...

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According to Kevin Kliethermes, director of sales at Flying Colours Corp, where private jets are concerned, high-speed internet systems form the major part of the conversation when discussing upgrades, refurbishments and completions with customers...

“Access to connectivity is now the priority for all owners,” even of Mid-Size and Light Jets, he notes, adding this is being driven by the steady introduction to market of more robust systems.

Previously, a customer would generally have a choice of two or three connectivity systems, with limitations relating to the size of the aircraft, its mission, and the customer’s budget. Now, choice is expanding as the higher bandwidth systems that had traditionally been available only at the very top of the market are becoming viable for Super Mid-size and Mid-size Jets.

Lighting – specifically ‘mood’ lighting – is increasingly in demand too, Kliethermes adds. Costs are falling, and “clients are excited about the ability to change the lighting in the cabin simply by interfacing with an app on a mobile phone, which of course is linked to the Cabin Management System (CMS) by the integrated Wi-Fi”.

CMS themselves also comprise a major part of the conversation during maintenance and refurbishment events, he added.

Planning an Upgrade: Budget and Research

Budgets are typically the main consideration for owners and operators of business jets when considering upgrading or changing their cabin electronics and systems. In most cases, they will begin with a long wish-list, with providers then working with them to eliminate what they don’t truly need, based on budgetary considerations.

Kliethermes emphasizes the importance of effective research, and a clear understanding of the aircraft’s mission. “Research up front becomes a force multiplier in terms of outcome,” he says.

Data consumption trends and considerations are increasingly a key consideration for owners and operators, according to James Person, Head of Sales and Business Development, Business & VVIP Aviation at Viasat. Expectations of high-quality connectivity are increasing, he says, particularly in smaller business and private jets.

In the past, perhaps due to limitations in Size, Weight and Power (SWAP), and the cost of the equipment or service, satellite-based high-speed connectivity was restricted to Large Jets, but today Super Mid-size jets have access to such connectivity via systems like Viasat’s Ka-band 3-LRU shipsets. His company is seeing great demand in this category, Persons notes.

Person pointed to a number of considerations for operators, such as the increasing amount of video consumed aboard business aircraft, particularly given the acceleration of video conferencing.

A busy executive uses her laptop aboard a Cessna Citation private jet

Shift in Demand

“Connectivity in both the cockpit and cabin are key requirements for customers, and are evolving at a rapid pace,” says Brian Adams, Vice President of Aftermarket Innovation at Textron Aviation, adding that the way in which passengers experience the cabin is constantly being improved, from audio systems to CMS.

“Recently, we have recognized a shift in customer service requests to be more focused on cabin quality and interior design,” Adams reveals. “While making sure passengers using the aircraft are comfortable, customers also want to enhance the passenger experience.”

Adams highlights how the Citation CJ4 Gen2 by Cessna was designed with this in mind, with the cabin featuring an upgraded CMS that allows passengers to stream entertainment and wirelessly control the cabin lighting, temperature and window shades from their mobile device, while the cabin also includes an onboard media server with the ability to stream pre-loaded video and audio files.

However, aircraft platforms don’t necessarily drive technological development, according to Mark Zimmerman, Director of Business Development for VVIP and Head of State Solutions at Collins Aerospace. Rather, “it’s really the consumer trends that drive our technology inserts,” he says, pointing to the growing demand for control of content and other areas via Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs).

“We try to ensure that the technology we implement is both stable and highly desired by passengers,” he adds.

The ‘Three Pillars’ of Cabin Electronics

Michael Skou Christensen, Vice President of Satcom Direct International, says the move towards the increased use of PEDs is enabling an improved user experience through boosting passenger control. Customers should view their cabin electronics investments through three pillars, he noted: hardware, software, and service.

“The person that sits in the business jet doesn’t need to know all the technical stuff that happens in the background,” he notes. “They should just have the user experience that they expected, and that they put forward as requirements when the systems were installed.”

The number one factor influencing acquisition decisions for owners and operators of business aircraft is trust, said Kai Tang, Senior Vice President of Business and General Aviation at Inmarsat Aviation, provider of a range of in-flight connectivity solutions for business aircraft, including voice communications and broadband internet access.

“They are making a significant investment and consequently the consideration we hear most often is: ‘does this connectivity provider have a reputation for following through on its promises, and a history of delivering added value for the customer? Or is this just another upstart that will pass through our industry with a flash and bang?’”

Finally, operators should look to “future-proof” their solution, Tang suggests, particularly through a focus on their provider’s capabilities and record. “The speed of technology advancement in hardware can be a doorway to new capabilities, or an expensive obsolescence issue,” he warns.

Therefore, operators should take time to explore and research their options, assessing not only the hardware and software, but the service when considering their next cabin electronics upgrade for their business jet.

Or, for the latest Cabin Electronics articles, answers to your FAQs, quick tips and more, visit the Cabin Electronics for Private Planes hub.

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