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In-Flight Entertainment: It’s not just for the ‘big birds’ anymore.

Business aviation necessarily is about taking people where they need to be- when they need to be there. Corporate aviation thus repeatedly proves its worth to users. The evidence abounds: growing deliveries- enlarging backlogs- increased use and expanding need. And that need seems likely to grow even more. If travel by common carrier seemed bad before the company opted for a corporate aircraft- imagine how attractive commercial carriage becomes in the near-term future.

Reduced flights- higher load factors – translated- these mean more sold-out flights- more-crowded planes and more instances where cancellations lead to something other than same-day arrival for those afflicted passengers.

Then there are the vanishing amenities: little-to-no free refreshment; high costs for what exists; and the indignity of spending hundreds- maybe thousands- on an airline ticket – only to learn that checking those bags costs extra. Now a new victim of the airline downturn looks to be ahead: the in-flight entertainment (IFE) equipment. Audio and video systems were all the rage only a few short months back- systems that proliferated as a mark of carriers’ dedication to passenger service and comfort in their efforts to win high-dollar business flyers. Now- such diversions seem headed to the destination of your last lost bag – oblivion.

With the departure of airline IFE systems go any hope of a diversion from your worries about the connection you’re missing while suffering long hours of delay on the tarmac. Conversely- aircraft-operating businesses increasingly recognize the quality-of-work benefits of IFE. And the range of IFE choices seems ever larger- with operators of everything from high-performance piston singles to bizliners enjoying ever more options for keeping the passengers relaxed- happy and entertained. After all- no matter the time- folks can’t be expected to work every minute just because the conveyance is a corporate bird. Everyone needs time to catch up on world news- relax with a movie or escape through some tunes. IFE gear gives that cabin a quality-of-life equivalent to the cabin’s equipped-for-business accoutrements.

A Fast-Changing Field
That IFE system that seemed so cutting edge when installed in the days of VHS video tapes hit its first point of obsolescence with the advent of DVD technology in the late 1990s. Upgrading often meant opting for an entirely new system – fortunate or not. Today- the systems of LCDs installed just a few years ago pales next to the cutting-edge gas plasma and high-definition LCD displays- meaning an upgrade today often means – again – upgrading to new equipment- a process far more involved than simply swapping screens. Furthermore- now we’ve got High-Definition Satellite and Blue Ray disc players on the horizon – which could mean yet another step-up in the core systems.

Fortunately for operators of newer equipment- the process of upgrading can be far easier and less time-consuming than for older aircraft – particularly aircraft in which IFE gear was not considered in the original design.

And then there are those technologies that provided little or no footprint even at the turn of the century: satellite radio services such as Sirius and XM- MP3 players- iPods and video iPods.

Systems only a few years old may not be compatible with any of these media advances.

And finding that the boss really wants his fellow travelers to see the kid’s recital on his portable video player is not a good time to find out the cabin IFE can’t deal with the player.

So when is a good time to consider an upgrade? When the aircraft is in for heavy maintenance can be a good time; or when the old IFE stops working like it should. Perhaps when it’s time to refresh the cabin appointments - or when it’s time to stop fooling around with that old-tech stuff and move on. The field is wide-ranging and ever deeper in offerings- making shopping a bit of a challenge.

To help- we’ll give a sampling of some of the latest equipment available – and we’ll take a pass across that broad spectrum that makes up the business aviation fleet- from the high-performance piston-single/propjet single end right up to the top end. However- if you don’t find something suitable for your needs on these pages- you can watch for what comes out of next month’s Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas (September 9-11) in Long Beach- California- as well as more new stuff at the 61st NBAA Convention in Orlando (October 6-8).

PS Engineering

Founded in 1995- PS Engineering is a long-time favorite of pilots flying light general aviation aircraft- from piston singles and up. Always innovative- PS Engineering over the years added to- and enhanced its line with audio panels with stereo sound and external audio inputs- models with integral and remotely controlled CD players. Now the company is going full bore into IFE for aircraft from the piston single to the propjet twin with the innovative new PAV80. The PAV80 incorporates a broadcast AM/FM radio receiver- CD/MP3/MP3 Pro player and DVD audio in one compact unit.

The unit is a panel-mounted system with a remote control so passengers in the back can access controls for music- radio or video- such as playing a DVD movie on an available 5.6-inch LCD display. The PAV80’s industry-standard video output supports the use of displays from other vendors. And when integrated with one of PS Engineering’s full-featured audio-control panels- the PAV80 can support playing music- radio or MP3s for the flight crew and other audio and video functions separately.

The single DVD player can also work with up to four separate display screens with the installation of an optional video distribution amplifier. In addition to supporting DVD movies- the PAV80 also sports an auxiliary input that works with portable game systems so the game players on board can play on the video screens.

Recently the company also unveiled its PMA800B- which integrates a satellite radio receiver into the audio-control panel allowing the aircraft to receive programming from the Sirius Satellite Radio Network.

PS Engineering’s latest offers an audio panel with its own built-in MP3 player with a storage capacity equal to about eight hours of sound – ending the need to use a plug-in connection to play audio off an MP3 player. Just load the audio software and you’re ready to play while you fly. This particular model- the PMA9000EX is offered solely to the experimental aircraft market- but we mention it because it’s not unusual for the company to adapt features such as the MP3 player to its models for certificated aircraft.

PS Engineering also offers several systems designed to deliver high-quality audio entertainment to both crew and passengers – independently or all-together.

More information from www.ps-engineering.com

Flight Display Systems
Early this year at EBACE- Georgia based Flight Display Systems unveiled its newest product - a 7-inch widescreen LCD display monitor sporting a number of improvements over its prior model in this size.

This new 7-inch model joins an extensive product line with monitor models ranging up to 42 inches for use in the cabins of larger jets. The company also offers many of its models with High Definition capabilities- which adds both crispness and detail to anything shown on a display. As you might already note - however - with a screen as small as 7 inches- Flight Display Systems offers solutions suitable for many aircraft at the lower end of the business aircraft spectrum.

Flight Display Systems’ LCD offers monitors for retrofit use in aircraft with existing screens. Its 7- and 10.2-inch upgrade models can often be installed in a day as a plug-and-play replacement for smaller existing pedestal-mounted screens. And the company offers a range of compatible video and audio products suitable for use in everything from propjet singles and up.

More information from www.flightdisplay.com

Rosen Aviation
Rosen Aviation- known for its high-end display screens- last year entered a partnership with satellite-radio provider XM and weather-data supplier Heads-Up Technologies.

The result is the ability to display XM’s WX Satellite Weather imagery via the new RosenView LXM moving-map and passenger-briefing system. The company also offers a RosenView VX combo unit- which is close to a self-contained IFE backbone. The VX unit handles DVD- iPod- moving-map video – with multiple video player inputs available.

Rosen considers the VX combo system an ideal for single- and multi-engine propjets- VLJs and light jets- alike.

More information from www.rosenaviation.com

This past spring’s Aircraft Interiors Expo - held in Hamburg- Germany - saw a number of IFE-system announcements. Among them- Aircraft Cabin Systems used the show to introduce the new 52-inch high-definition monitor from the IFE specialty company- in addition to highlighting its full range of monitors – including a new line of compact LCD screens suitable for installing in aircraft seat backs.

Alto Aviation
A relatively small Massachusetts firm- Alto offers equipment that has found its way into some big bizjets – unless you consider a Lockheed Tri-Star as “small-” that is… Alto Aviation specializes in sound gear and is specifically strong in technology from Bose – another Massachusetts-based company.

An adaptation of a home-theater system- one of Alto’s latest efforts supplies a custom system providing surround-sound for on-board audio and video. The system can be customized to independently serve multiple zones with different feeds – with the system installation designed so that each passenger in each seat in each zone enjoys the full surround-sound experience.

More information from www.altoaviation.com

Based in California- meantime- InTheAirNet focuses primarily on after-market upgrades and refurbishment projects- including its newest offering known as CabFlex- a system which is essentially a full-cabin-management and cabin-entertainment system rolled into one.

It manages aerial office equipment- such as airborne internet and on-board Ethernet- as well as the IFE gear. And it’s both scalable and flexible in its configuration- so the aircraft gets only the hardware it needs to support the systems installed. On the IFE side- CabFlex includes an auxiliary port for portable media systems like MP3 players- iPods or video games such as the PlayStation 3 or PSP. Need more inputs? Optional additional auxiliary ports are available.

More information from www.intheairnet.com

Rockwell Collins
Last year Rockwell Collins unveiled its new Venue high-definition cabin management system- noting it was designed to work much like a modern home-theater package with a real-time and uncompressed high-definition distribution system.

This package gives passengers the ability to watch video or play games using the HD 720p or 1080p display standards. The system also supports video from a range of sources- including the new Blu-Ray video discs and various game systems. The Venue system can integrate with Apple’s hugely popular iPod and iPhone- allowing distribution of iPod audio and video throughout the cabin- in addition to charging and full menu control.

Venue offers the new dual video Media Center Device- which provides one channel for a wide range of entertainment functions- including Blu-Ray movies- and a second channel for a new HD- widescreen moving-map display.

As with most systems that support Blu-Ray- the Venue system is backward compatible with the standard DVDs and the system sports a digital-camera input to facilitate the transfer of photos to the media-center hard drive.

Venue can support a variety of game systems such as PlayStation 3- PSP or Xbox 360- supporting real-time- high-definition display. And finally- Rockwell Collins offers new monitors- including a seat-back or bulkhead-mount suitable 10.6-inch high-definition monitor- with plans for larger hi-def monitors.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

And there’s more in the works…
This article could go on far longer- if the author wasn’t fearful that so much of the featured technology would be obsolete by the time you need to use the information. Your best bet for an up-to-date IFE system in your cabin is to consult with your interior contractor early- shop around and don’t be afraid to consider mixing components.

Finally- take a long- hard look at any media technologies more than five years old. At the rate technology advances in this segment- you want to assure yourself that the system you install today will still be supported for several years.

As noted earlier- much of what established IFE as an in-flight staple has long past vanished and even some hardware only a few years old is already so obsolete it’s no longer supported. It’s hard to feel entertained when you can’t stop thinking of how much fun you could be having with all those bucks spent on an out-of-date system. 

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