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Cabin Electronics Redefine Old Aviation Term By Contact: Anybody who’s ever seen a movie depicting early aviation likely recognizes the term – even without necessarily understanding the implications. Regardless of whether they know the true meaning they know the word generally accompanies a specific action.

You know the image – the swashbuckling aviator- the guy with the silk scarf and goggles- climbs into the open-cockpit bi-plane; in front of the plane- a grizzled mechanic wearing oilstained coveralls and dingy ball cap grips a prop blade with one hand and gives a signal with the other.

“Contact?” The mechanic’s question comes with an inquiring thumbs-up and causes people to move away from the aircraft. A thumbs-up signal comes back from the cockpit accompanied by the affirming word- “Contact!” Then the mechanic pulls- smoothly- assertively- swinging the prop aggressively.

If all the stars align- the old round engine barks and belches- sending oil smoke into the air and the pistons began to pick up a beat as the cylinders reluctantly go to work until each one settles into the distinctive rhythm of the odd-number firing order. What happened next varied greatly according to the movie…

Away from the movies- these days for business travelers the word “contact” still permeates the business aviation world- albeit with a new translation. Today- contact is more and more a must-have state for travelers in the modern corporate aircraft – contact in the context of access to the rest of the world via suites of modern digital communications tools.

With businesses facing challenges in every direction- every aspect needs to function at its best level of efficiency – in terms of company operations- in terms of time use- and to help manage time- in terms of efficiency in travel. Thanks to the contact now possible- these factors all merge in the back cabin of the modern- made-for-business aircraft.

Whether the need is simple – such as seamless telephone service – or sophisticated enough to support fax- wireless e-mail- Internet and company Intranet use- the goal remains the same: To preserve contact with the rest of the world for all those mid-level managers- engineers- technicians and executives via digital electronics comparable to that available on the ground when at the office- hotel or anywhere WiFi and wireless internet service exists.

That access is quickly becoming so pervasive that relief from constant contact is rapidly evaporating.

Growing right alongside in-flight connectivity is in-flight entertainment- an intertwined field with a decidedly different purpose: providing a relaxed atmosphere when the harried travelers simply can’t keep working any longer. For many operators of many a business aircraft- solutions to the two needs often can come in one step.

Thanks to the economic stimulus bill that became law only weeks ago in the US- upgrading cabin electronics may be more attractive now than later. Depending on the tax treatment of the operator- improvements to company aircraft may qualify for accelerated depreciation- which means the tax benefits of investing in improvements come more quickly and with more short-term impact.

The media has given scant attention to the accelerated tax benefits available for the purchase of new and even qualifying pre-owned aircraft for business use – and next to no attention at all for the tax treatment available for improvements.

This is a time that some operators may realize the challenges of trying to sell an existing airplane and upgrading to another.

This is a good time to buy- but an undoubtedly tough time to sell. And that condition makes the incentives available for refurbishing an important option to consider. This depreciation advantage was available under language in a 2008 stimulus law- but that option ended at the end of last year.

The latest stimulus law resurrected those beneficial tax treatments- and they apply to improvements owners can make to the entire aircraft – from the flight deck through the cabin to the powerplants.

Although different companies may have different tax concerns- looking into the potential benefits of this short-term – as in 2009- only – special treatment could save a profitable company considerable tax payments; for companies not profitable- the benefits could extend beyond this year- say some tax preparers. So shop swiftly and wisely- a cabin upgrade may never be less expensive than it could be in 2009.

If you’ve seen even the slimmest sliver of promotions for cell phones- you’ve no doubt noticed that these little devices continue to evolve at a dizzying rate. From merely serving portable voice-communications needs- these increasingly ubiquitous devices evolved – camera functions arrived- followed by simple text messaging functions which served as a lead-in to full-blown Internet access functions and video playing capabilities.

So should we be surprised to see evolution in cabin electronics occurring at a quick pace? Not if we’re paying attention. A good example can be found with Colorado-based Aircell...

When Aircell first burst onto the business aviation scene about a decade ago- its claim to fame was for providing hardware and services to support airborne communications via cellular technology. Today- the company still offers that- and plenty more.

In August 2008- the company launched its commercial aviation solution- Gogo Inflight Internet- on American Airlines- and then last fall came to the NBAA Convention in Orlando to unveil a version of the system aimed at the corporate aircraft market.

Aircell’s main claim for Gogo gravitates around its ground-speed equality – that is- whatever you can do with your laptop computer- PDA- BlackBerry or smartphones- you can do with Gogo Inflight Internet… with equal speed and alacrity. In-flight broadband access at onground broadband speeds means email- web-surfing- motion video and large-file downloads happen as quickly in a Gogo-equipped corporate aircraft cabin as they do in the user’s on-ground hard-wired office.

So if you’re a fan of services like MSNBC- MSN- Bloomberg or even Comedy Central- their web-based services come through at speeds- comparable to DSL or better.

Fortunately for the operator- Gogo will be available in a business aircraft-sized Aircell Axxess package that weighs in at about 23 pounds – including two seven-inch-long blade antennae – for about $85-000- plus installation. That price includes Aircell Broadband system- the Aircell Axxess system and its integral two-channel Iridium satcom receiver.

The system Aircell developed for commercial carriers- in contrast- weighs in excess of 120 pounds. Aircell also offers two service packages. One is an $895-per-month package offering a lower-speed- narrower bandwidth link designed to support e-mail via a wireless- or WiFi- handheld device – such as BlackBerry. The higher-speed- larger bandwidth service can be acquired for about $1-995 per month and provides the high speeds cited for full use that all the Internet can provide.

More information from www.gogoinflight.com or www.aircell.com

Some of the players in the cabin management systems field- in the arena of connectivity and entertainment in-flight- may be better known by many for the systems they offer for the flight deck. Honeywell and Rockwell Collins stand as prime examples...

Honeywell- which offers its Ovation Select cabin management system- may seem like a departure to many. The company is better known for its Apex and Epic integrated flight-deck solutions than its back-cabin work. But with the launch of its redesigned Ovation Select system- Honeywell has moved itself squarely into the realm of cabin connectivity and in-flight entertainment.

According to the company- Ovation Select allows passengers to stay connected through a “simple and intuitive” cabin interface that works through a 100-percent digital backbone. That means the user gets to choose between viewing a film played on a high-definition Blu-ray DVD player- listen to music sourced from a satellite radio system or personal MP3 player- or using the personal laptop or BlackBerry for their designed purposes.

The Ethernet-based connection between components simplifies installation and reduces downtime- while allowing customization for the systems desired by the customer.

More information from www.honeywell.com

Rockwell Collins’ Falcon Cabin Management System- a leader in its own right- provides the fully integrated blend of wireless laptop connectivity- fax- printer- phone capabilities- and control of all the entertainment options we know today – CD- DVD- MP3- the near-ubiquitous iPod- satellite television – as well as access to navigation moving-map display and flight-data info that gives real-time progress info to the cabin occupants.

The source equipment can vary widely- but the common control architecture of FCMS puts the folks in the back cabin in total control of their environment.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

The corporate flight attendant is a growing segment of the business aviation community- and growing more common with the continued proliferation of mid-- large-cabin and larger- longer-range machines.

Considering of the needs of those who serve the passengers in the cabin prompted Gulfstream Aerospace to think of cabin crewmembers in terms similar to its concerns for flight crew. The result: a cabin-equivalent of the electronic flight bag growing so rapidly in aviation circles.

Gulfstream’s PlaneBook for the Cabin mimics the benefits available to pilots using the PlaneBook for Pilots- which the company introduced at NBAA in 2007. “Cabin attendants using PlaneBook for the Cabin will have the information they need to efficiently manage the cabin environment and provide passengers with exceptional cabin service-” explained David Craig- director- Gulfstream Product Support for Technical Information. “Just as PlaneBook for Pilots provides a paperless flightdeck solution- PlaneBook for the Cabin provides cabin attendants with critical information in a compact- portable and paperless resource.”

Gulfstream offers PlaneBook for the Cabin for all of its in-production large-cabin Gulfstream aircraft: the G550- G500- G450 and G350.

PlaneBook for Pilots was introduced for Gulfstream large-cabin aircraft at the National Business Aviation Association conference in 2007. Gulfstream then offered it to operators of its mid-cabin aircraft in June 2008. The planemaker developed PlaneBook in collaboration with Advanced Data Research (ADR)- pioneer of the electronic flight bag. ADR uploads the PlaneBook software onto each computer- which is configured to the operator’s requirements and can serve as a personal laptop when not being used in the PlaneBook configuration.

PlaneBook uses a Windows-based Fujitsu P1630 tablet computer with 1 gigabyte of RAM and a 64 gigabyte solid state hard drive. Customers can upgrade to a higher RAM speed (2 gigabyte) or add a Bluetooth wireless (or USB) global positioning satellite system.

Like PlaneBook for Pilots- PlaneBook for the Cabin comes with a three-year warranty- Gulfstream Help Desk priority status and guarantee of a loaner PlaneBook if the original ever requires repairs. Customers who already have PlaneBook for Pilots can arrange to have the cabin data package added to their PlaneBook by contacting the Technical Publications Business Office at 1-800-810-GULF.

More information from www.gulfstream.com/product_enhancements/planebook/

ViaSat offers what may be among the highest-speed connection solutions available for corporate aircraft. Deployed through the Yonder Ku-band satellite broadband system- ViaSat’s Yonder service offers connectivity speeds approaching 10 Mbps- about triple the speeds available through other solutions.

To tap into Yonder requires a lightweight 12-inch antenna- and the service is available to aircraft flying over most of the northern half of the Western Hemisphere. Expansion to most of the rest of the world should occur by this time in 2010.

ViaSat offers its onboard terminals- ground systems and satellite services through a variety of resellers that can integrate the equipment into a complete IFE system.

More information from www.viasat.com

Meantime- with the growth of in-cabin electronics has come a commensurate increase in the demands on aircraft electrical systems- which provides power but not always of a quality friendly to sophisticated video and audio gear.

That’s where Richard Gray’s Power Company enters the fray with its RGPC ClearSky offering. According to this New Orleans-based firm- ClearSky serves as a power-management system that eliminates electrical noise and provides stable- surge-free power to the audio and video equipment.

Of course- with such technology in play in an environment as unique as an aircraft cabin- it’s not surprising that specialty companies have emerged to service the market.

Among the players is the exclusive integrator of the ClearSky hardware- a company devoted to designing- installing- testing and winning approval for in-flight theater: SkyTheater.

Lead by a multi-discipline team of four- SkyTheater provides custom design services to tailor the system to the aircraft while aiming to deliver the best audio and video experience possible with current technology.

More information from www.richardgrayspowercompany.com or www.skytheater.com

Among the long-time leaders in cabin-electronics systems is Arinc - especially in aircraft communications for large operators. Last fall the company debuted its new Oi Internet service for laptop computer users- with systems that work through the company’s addition of SwiftBroadband connectivity through the Inmarsat satellite network.

A carrier common to many providers of in-cabin connection solutions- SwiftBroadband provides the speed and bandwidth needed for high-speed Web use that requires service beyond what’s required for simple e-mail and text services.

Oi employs a dedicated portal onboard the aircraft that satisfies most needs- with higher needs served through a wireless connection when the aircraft is on the ground. Originally a company owned by a consortium of airlines- Arinc today is held by the Carlyle Group and is increasing its efforts to serve the business aircraft cabin and cockpit.

More information from www.arinc.com

To conclude this particular look at Cabin Avionics- another solution to the need for connectivity and conversation in-flight comes from Canada’s TrueNorth Avionics. Employing the Iridium and/or Inmarsat satellite networks- TrueNorth offers solutions to the need for in-flight phone and fax- among its many functions.

The company’s Simphone airborne telecom system employs an open architecture compatible with a variety of digital and analog systems- such as the old MagnaStar phone systems that once served as the standard equipment for in-flight phone needs. Simphone systems start at $25-000.

The company now offers a flexible faxing solution that requires no special connection and can store incoming faxes when the line is in use. Later this year- the company also expects to offer its fully-fledged Simphone Global Broadband (SGBB) system compatible with the SwiftBroadband system that will expand the functionality of the connection.

More information from www.truenorthavionics.com

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