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Cabin Power and Today’s Electronics

Most of us are oblivious as to how the power supply gets to the nearest outlet when we need to charge up our favorite electronic toys. We just find the most convenient spot and plug in the device without thinking too much about it. Power supplies are a little more complex in today’s business jet aircraft cabins, so there are several things to consider when making sure you have the appropriate power for all your gadgets in the back of the aircraft.

Steve Watkins   |   13th April 2014
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Steve Watkins Steve Watkins

Steve Watkins is Technical Services Manager, Western Region for Jet Support Services, Inc....
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Some Upgrading Considerations...

Most of us are oblivious as to how the power supply gets to the nearest outlet when we need to charge up our favorite electronic toys. We just find the most convenient spot and plug in the device without thinking too much about it. Power supplies are a little more complex in today’s business jet aircraft cabins, so there are several things to consider when making sure you have the appropriate power for all your gadgets in the back of the aircraft.

Whoever performs a cabin modification to your aircraft should follow all of the rules and make sure that appropriate placards are in place to inform passengers not to use and charge a $2,000 laptop into an outlet that was designed to power the vacuum cleaner that the crew uses. Plugging an iPad, laptop, game console, phone, or any of the other electronic items that most people travel with today, into a socket with too much amperage or voltage can cause damage to the unit, its wiring, and the aircraft’s power supply.

The FAA has regulations, memorandums, letters and advisories to cover all of the concerns for proper wiring and the use of different power sources for an aircraft, but as a passenger, you just want to be able to plug-in and go, without worrying about smoke coming out of your laptop.

Upgrading Considerations

So when power sources are being added during a major refurbishment or with a minor upgrade, your technician needs to make sure that all of your little requirements have been met by the installer. While looking for an aircraft to purchase, a buyer should review the aircraft’s power source and take into consideration any new entertainment systems or equipment that they might want to install in the future when they upgrade the cabin.

If the aircraft is not already equipped to support the new power requirements, several items should be considered. Existing voltage and amperage of the units already installed should be reviewed. A laptop would not require the same amps as a fax machine or other older technical item, and an iPad would be different from an old laptop. Newer hi-tech items are somewhat adaptable, but you should consider the power needed for each unit that is plugged in, as well as the overall total electrical usage of the aircraft.

My house was built in the 1960s and needless to say, two electrical outlets in the bathroom are not enough for my wife’s numerous dryers, lighted mirror, styling brushes, and clock radio. At home, I can plug in a power strip and solve my problem for the most part, but an aircraft has rectifiers, converters, AC and DC generators and all of the computers that protect the different systems.

Outlets at the seat location are preferred by most owners as it makes it convenient for passengers to access their electronics. Running extension cords down the aisle is obviously not an option. Having outlets at each seat is nice, but the question is, does your aircraft have the electrical capabilities to support this, and does your budget allow for all the engineering and installation costs to make that happen? You will also need to factor in the future costs of having these units repaired, and eventually replaced.

When upgrading your cabin, I recommend that you contract with a vendor that has superior knowledge about current electrical systems. I would not recommend that your aircraft be used as a test subject for new and unproven power supplies and equipment. If a new style or concept power system and components do not function properly, it could be costly to correct the problem and adversely affect systems that are essential to the safe operation of the aircraft.

A few of the electrical items that are required by the FAA can easily be checked. Make sure that the power system for entertainment or passenger convenience items can be turned off. There should be at least a master switch that shuts down all non-essential cabin equipment. This will allow one of the crew members to eliminate any electrical problems with the cabin power with a quick flip of a switch. This switch should also be labeled and easily identified by passengers, just in case there are no flight attendants traveling on board and the crew is busy flying the aircraft. (I know I want to be able to turn off the power to my PlayStation IV if it starts smoking and the power wire insulation is melting away with the bare wire glowing bright red.)

It is also a good idea to have the electrical system designed with zonal switches so you can separate problem areas from other zones in the cabin. This will allow passengers to use the coffee pot even when there is a bad receptacle in the seat that no one is using. These zones can be predicated on the type of equipment that is being operated or by the actual location in the aircraft.

The safest bet is to always consider systems that have been installed in the same make and model as your aircraft. I do not know if Angie’s List has references for aircraft cabin power system suppliers, but the vendor you are talking to should provide you with names and numbers of current operators with the same type of installation. You should contact a few of these customers for feedback and comments about their experience.

In closing, I would always follow the recommendations of the installing facility on where the electrical systems are being installed and how they are controlled. After all, you hired them as experts to do the work instead of installing your own electrical extension cords and power strips in the cabin!

 


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