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Modern cabin gear connects to the whole wide world

There’s an old saying that goes- 'You can run but you can’t hide.' And it gets a lot of use in a wide swath of day-to-day situations. For the busy business traveler in the back cabin of the company jet- you could morph the saying somewhat: 'You can fly but you can’t hide.'

Modern cabin electronics are the reason. Products of parallel- interlinked revolutions – in digital and satellite communications technologies – these systems offer aircraft operators a way to give their wings all the same connectivity as that stationary office back on the ground.

Connectivity like this means the back-cabin business traveler can seamlessly maintain lines of communication and productivity with equal efficiency whether in the home office or in the office in the sky. And that connectivity can be global – to company-specific systems such as corporate Intranets or the entirety of the World Wide Web; from voice communications to data link; from teleconferencing to satellite television with quality equal to the best home theater system.

This degree of utility exceeds the standard set by consumer electronics – portable DVD players- MP3 players- even Palm-like and Blackberry-type devices- and handheld gaming systems – and can enhance the utility of that trusty little notebook computer we all seem to carry on our travels.

On the airlines- the above devices are subject to the rules of the carriers and the timing that goes with returning 'your seatback tray tables to their upright and locked position.' You can’t easily connect with the Internet from most airliners – even when you can turn on that notebook.

So relax- put down that tray table- spread out the magazine and read on. This month we take a snapshot of cabin systems that deliver all the touches of home – the home office- that is – from wherever the company aircraft happens to be.

Efficiency Demands
Whether the top executive- a harried middle manager or a member of the board- business aircraft users seem in agreement – business jets these days must serve as more than mere humanity haulers. First- there’s only so much time these folks can stand in reading reports or shuffling papers while transiting from one location to another. 'Why'- they collectively ask- 'should the company aircraft be only transportation?' Given the systems available today- there are no reasons why the back-cabin passengers can’t work as efficiently and effectively in-flight as they can in-office.

OEM planemakers have long recognized that in-flight office gear serves as a significant competitive draw for their products by offering systems that provide all the accoutrements of the ground office: voice and fax communications- Internet access with email- even satellite TV. And many of these systems are interrelated since they work off the same digital backbone.

Modern satellite-based broadband communications platforms provide the connection between the ground-based World Wide Web and the corporate and commercial aircraft soaring high overhead. These systems employ an airframe-mounted antenna that self aligns itself with a compatible communications satellite. The antenna serves as the two-way link between the satellite and a central hub mounted in the aircraft that links on-board computers to the Internet system on the ground.

As these systems evolved- data transfer speeds grew to levels comparable to DSL or cable connections – a huge improvement considering their roots as systems with speeds barely equal to dial-up services.

At the same time- the volume of data traffic these systems handle grew- as well.

Gulfstream Aerospace
For example- Gulfstream has developed a highly effective high-speed Broad Band Multi-Link Internet gateway retrofitted into a GV- while also holding STCs for the system to be installed on the Gulfstream G350- G450- G500 and G550 models. Further retrofit options on older models looked set to be announced by the company at the time of publication including for the GIV- GIV-SP- G300 and G400.

With data speeds of 3.5 megabits per second (mbps)- Gulfstream’s BBML backbone delivers access equal to a typical ground-based cable-modem link. Gulfstream itself guarantees download speeds of at least 512 kbps- and upload speeds of at least 128 kbps - with typical speeds running from 700 kbps to more than 1 mbps.

Gulfstream’s system even supports wireless connections between the ubiquitous notebook computer and aircraft’s hard-wired LAN- providing the notebook user with maximum flexibility for their business surfing.

More information from www.gulfstream.com

EMS Technologies
Another competitor- longtime airborne-internet provider EMS Technologies- offers its HSD-400 satcom data terminal- which supports four channels of Inmarsat’s Swift64 or SwiftBroadband service for data speeds of up to 432 kbps – a huge jump from the 64 kbps speeds of older Inmarsat-based systems.

EMS Technologies’ new backbone supports video conferencing- Virtual Private Network and airborne cellular phone use.

New satellites supporting the EMS system allow users of its existing HSD-128 data terminal to install a software and hardware upgrade to receive a new- higher data capacity of 256 kbps by combining four channels of 64 kbps data transfer.

More information from www.ems-t.com

In-flight communications giant ARINC offers its ARINC Direct SkyLink service- which the company says is more than 10 times faster than another popular system.

With Boeing’s Connexion service- ARINC and Inmarsat in the field and more to come- it’s no small wonder that the service providers are gearing up to handle a crush of new customers. That means adding system capacity so that more users can log more connection time without seeing the system slow down from the load.

To that end- Inmarsat- alone- expects to launch 14 new satellites this year- all designed for the company’s new SwiftBroadBand service- as well as to provide more capacity for users of the company’s older Swift64 backbones.

In reality- SwiftBroadBand actually serves as a two-in-one-network by simultaneously supporting voice and ISDN- plus packet data too. Inmarsat’s SwiftBroadBand hardware also offers users the same ‘always on’ connection we enjoy with ground-based DSL and Cable Modem systems.

Inmarsat is spending about $1.6 billion on the SwiftBroadBand satellites but with an equal eye toward older users as well as new. So the new satellites are backward compatible – that is- users of the older systems will still be able to use the same antennas and high-power amplifiers now installed to access the existing Swift64 system. And since Inmarsat plans to keep its Swift64 service on and available after SwiftBroadBand comes online- existing Swift64 customers will be able to pick which service to use- as well as a voice connection.

More information from www.inmarsat.com

Rockwell Collins
Look for more growth from Boeing’s Connexion Internet service thanks to Rockwell Collins’ antenna created to allow Boeing’s hardware to work on business jets unable to carry the 737-scale antenna originally employed. Rockwell Collins’ new antenna systems are geared toward installation in Bombardier’s Global Express- larger Falcons and other super-midsize and midsize business jets.

This partnership- eXchange- puts Rockwell Collins in place as the exclusive marketer of the Connexion hardware and service for clients with the jet sizes below the BBJ and 737 models.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

Honeywell/Thales Avionics
The same can be said for Honeywell and Thales Avionics- who offer the HS-702 high-speed data communications platform. Designed to support data connection speeds up to 128-kbps- plus voice and fax capability. Adding the HS-700/702 to a Honeywell/Thales MCS-4000 or MCS-7000 satcom system provides customers with the option of using two independent 64 kbps data channels or linking the two channels together into a 128 kbps link.

The HS-700/702 provides access to nine channels when used with the seven-channel MCS-7000 satcom system- providing support for telephone- fax- web browsing- email and videoconferencing.

Capable of delivering two-way connections at speeds of 64 kbps- the HS-600 terminal can integrate with any Honeywell/ Thales satcom system- from the MCS-3000 and MCS-4000 to the higher-end MCS-6000 and MCS-7000 units.

Customers who purchase the HS-600 or HS-700 data systems can also opt for the NSU-4 network server- which provides higher transfer rates- the ability to access to corporate Virtual Private Networks and wireless network backbones.

More information from www.honeywell.com

All work and no play makes Jack – or Jill – a dull boss. And maybe even a frustrated one if all that work travel keeps the boss from catching the NCAA basketball tourney or the season finale of 'Lost.'

Let’s face it – not even the hardest-charging- most anal-retentive executive tries to fill every minute of corporate aircraft travel with work. Even the most efficient- dedicated executive eventually has to take a break periodically just to maintain some degree of sanity.

And with more and more jets capable of spending six- eight- even 10 to 12 hours aloft- in-flight entertainment systems offers a world relief in the form of satellite television for the back cabin occupants who don’t have their noses to the grindstone.

Generically- such satellite-based television systems require an antenna to receive the signal from the appropriate satellite- route that signal to a receiver that decodes it- and then architecture to feed the selected channel to the display screen.

To maintain the connection as the aircraft moves- the antenna must track the satellite in some way. Some systems employ a moveable dish faired into the airframe and that dish moves to stay pointed at the satellite.

Other systems employ a so-called phased-array antenna that does not move. Such antennae are generally flat- thin and somewhat long – but can be mounted directly in the airflow on the airframe- unlike the moving dish- which must be hidden. Since the phased-array antenna can’t move- it must electronically focus its elements on the satellite to maintain the signal strength needed to capture the digital code that turns into audio and video.

Systems vary to fit into a huge variety of cabin sizes and designs. Some work with a single large flat-panel display; others employ smaller screens mounted at club seating areas or at individual seats. And the growing field of equipment and program suppliers means the user enjoys a variety of service choices.

Rockwell Collins
The Airshow system now owned by Rockwell Collins is one such system available for an expanding fleet of corporate aircraft. Airshow 4000 is capable of handling a wide variety of multimedia feeds- including audio- video- moving-map graphics and text for display in both the cabin and the flight deck. The moving-map/navigation display- for example- employs information from an aircraft’s long-range sensors and displays appropriate maps and flight information- as well as news- stock prices- sports and weather.

Collins also offers BBC News programming over the Airshow 4000 system under a contract with the British network. This linkage allows clients to select from 16 different categories of international news and even create custom profiles for different users.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

Flight Display Systems
Flight Display Systems (FDS) is another specialist for in-flight entertainment gear and service with its Ellipse Direct. Ellipse Direct is adaptable for a variety of corporate aircraft that includes most light jets and propjets.

One of the strongest aspects of FDS’s pitch for Ellipse Direct is its cost: just under $100-000- plus a display and installation. Downtime to install the system can be as little as two weeks. Another strength for the product is its flexibility. According to FDS- Ellipse Direct can be fitted on aircraft ranging in size from the Pilatus PC-12 single-propjets to the full range of Citations- Challengers- Falcons- Globals- Gulfstreams- Hawkers and beyond.

Ellipse Direct employs a radome-mounted antenna that steers to see the satellite and does not require a GPS interface- while the reception hardware works with the popular DirecTV digital-satellite service. The internal satellite TV receiver and a wireless remote control output plays on a wide variety of displays.

Ellipse Direct also supports two independent display channels- allowing two different programs to play in two or more displays simultaneously. The system can deliver most service or packages available to ground customers of DirecTV – up to and including dedicated news- sports or movie packages. Pricing is generally in line with what home consumers pay for comparable service.

More information from www.ellipsedirect.com

Stevens Aviation
Go farther down in price and you can opt for self-contained IFE systems that lack satellite-reception capability. Stevens Aviation in South Carolina offers its Stevens Elite In-Flight Customized Entertainment package.

Promoted for its simplicity and low cost- the Stevens Elite In-Flight package consists of a CD- DVD and MP3 media players- a satellite radio receiver- moving maps and high-resolution viewing monitors- with integrated switching and wireless R/F headsets.

This packaging offers much-lower cost – as much as $20-000 below comparable systems – contributing to the strong customer response Stevens’ is experiencing.

Flexibility is another factor in the popularity of the Stevens Elite package. The system is designed for all aircraft- with installations already complete in some King Air 90s and 350s- Hawkers- the Piaggios- and Beech 400s.

More information from www.stevensaviation.com

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