Cabin Electronics: Managing Passenger Expectations

Upgrading your cabin electronics is a delicate balancing act. How can flight department managers balance passenger expectations, higher costs, and keeping ahead of the technological curve? Andre Fodor shares…

Andre Fodor  |  17th May 2021
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Andre Fodor

With a focused approach on global excellence and creativity, Andre Fodor has managed flight operations...

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One term coined to describe the speed at which the competitive advantage of a new piece of technology is surpassed – causing it to lose its value, applicability and usefulness – is ‘Velocity of Obsolescence’. This can often be measured in days and weeks, as opposed to years...

By comparison, 'Adaptability of Obsolescence' helps define whether these technologies can be upgraded or altered, helping extend their useful lives. As you can probably imagine, these two terms have plenty to do with business jets – including their cabin electronics.

Business jets are extremely vulnerable to technological obsolescence. Passengers who are used to consuming new, cutting-edge technologies at home or in the work place expect to find the same amenities in the cabins of their multi-million-dollar jets.

High speed jet connectivity, large and high-definition screens, and networkable technologies are just a few of their expectations.

The same finishing and materials used in their offices, homes, and cars will often be desired in their aircraft interiors. While the technology installed should also be more a matter of choice and taste (and ultimately cost), it’s instead often determined by lengthy, costly certification matters.

Why the High Costs?

Aviation materials and components must be certified to ensure they’re safe to operate on aircraft. And this can delay the arrival of new products into our aircraft cabins, restricting the choices that ultimately become available to owners, due to the associated high costs.

And certification isn’t universal. It will require unique approvals from different certifying authorities from around the world. This stringent process drives up the cost of components, and can also cause the arrival of ‘new’ goods on the market that are already on the verge of obsolescence.

Having worked for an aircraft OEM in the past, I’ve seen the certification process first-hand. The development teams must have a keen eye to predict technologies and new trends so that their products have a long life on the market, eventually yielding a return on investment. 

Failure to develop and certify the right equipment could cost millions of dollars and several years of effort for nothing. 

For example, I recall once taking delivery of a brand new aircraft installed with iPhone charger connectors only for them to become obsolete when Apple introduced a new charging standard.

For a long time, I have held the belief that OEMs would be well-served to focus on providing hyper-resilient backbone systems. In other words, the OEM develops a networkable, flexible and multi-connectivity system for vendors to provide an array of upgradable plug-and-play devices that seamlessly interface with it.

By offering the upgrades in the form of STCs (which don’t carry the same stringent certification requirements), OEMs could provide assurance that their cabins will remain advanced and flexible, and they’ll potentially gain a market edge.

And if the backbone was already in place, the cost to upgrade would be lower, making it easier for the owner to ensure their aircraft remained technologically up-to-date.

The Flight Department’s Role in Educating Passengers

But it’s not just about items like the Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment that business jet passengers are concerned with. Discerning passengers expect to have full control of their cabin environments, too. 

Less than a decade ago, our homes began to morph from being lit by incandescent bulbs to LED lighting that can provide tone, warmth and color palette options, all at the touch of a smartphone. 

We’re seeing a move in this direction in the aircraft cabin, too, while air filtration systems and sophisticated food preparation systems are also options that should be available for the modern private flier.

While great opportunities are available for owners of older aircraft to retrofit their cabin electronics and take advantage of newer equipment, it is crucial for flight departments to maintain a professional focus on the available technology.

The passengers in the cabin rely on their flight departments to guide and inform their selection choices, ensuring their in-flight technological needs are met to the best possible standard.

So it is important for the flight department to communicate and familiarize them with the higher standards, safety, and redundancy thresholds that must be met before technology can be installed in an aircraft’s cabin. Without the information, they may think that the high costs of having necessary cabin electronics installed is simply taking advantage of their deep pockets.

Make Planning Your Key

Once the aircraft’s owner is fully appraised of what is available, planning becomes key as we move ahead with a cabin electronics upgrade. An understanding of the work scope will help with the planning.

What else could be tied in with an upgrade of the cabin electronics, which will require extensive interior removal? Is this the ideal time to re-cover seats, replace panels and change the carpets? Plan for the future, including installing extra wiring provisions with a view to making future upgrades.

And, most importantly, seek the best cabin electronics  vendor that blends expertise, quality and relationship intention into one strong product. This will make your experience easier to manage, and deliver results that match the expectations of your passengers as closely as possible.

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