Plane Sense - Taking Care Of Business Aloft

In some ways today’s modern business turbine aircraft offer users the same benefits they’ve always provided: fast- direct- secure transportation between points of the user’s choosing. Once-upon a time- however- whatever work passengers needed to address- they brought in their briefcases and attachés. What they left on the ground waited for them to land- locate a land line and call in.

Dave Higdon  |  01st April 2012
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Dave Higdon
Dave Higdon

Dave Higdon is a highly respected, NBAA Gold Wing award-winning aviation journalist who has covered all...

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Taking Care Of Business Aloft
Digital Cabin systems keep us productive and in touch en route.

In some ways today’s modern business turbine aircraft offer users the same benefits they’ve always provided: fast- direct- secure transportation between points of the user’s choosing. Once-upon a time- however- whatever work passengers needed to address- they brought in their briefcases and attachés. What they left on the ground waited for them to land- locate a land line and call in.

The basic benefits of Business Aviation have never changed; they simply got better. Today’s modern business-turbine aircraft accomplish the mobility missions more efficiently than ever- not least in terms of the cabin as a workspace.

While pre-1990s the flight phone let people aloft talk to people on the ground- work materials remained limited largely to what came aboard in passengers’ briefcases. Then came the 1990s and the Internet information revolution- along with parallel advances in microelectronics and digital circuitry. By the close of the 20th Century Business Aviation operators were embracing aerial iterations of the same technological and information-system revolutions invading the modern ground-based office suite.

And by the dawn of the 21st Century systems existed scaled to fit satellite-based Internet backbones into practically any size of business turbine aircraft. With those systems come literally any function found in a ground-bound office: Global internet access; email and web-surfing; live- remote access to company intranets; printing- fax- wireless-device support within the cabin; secure- direct global communications between ground and aircraft – cockpit or cabin; teleconferencing - all have become possible for the business aircraft cabin.

Skype calls or teleconferences- support for iPads and other tablets- Bluetooth connectivity between airborne systems and personal portables - even cordless phone and cell service… advances in Cabin Avionics these past couple of years have meant that if it’s available on the ground- it’s possible to duplicate or mimic in-flight.

Advancing to a cabin makeover to begin or expand in-flight capabilities stands with a flight-deck upgrade in many ways. For example- in both instances selecting from among available technologies and vendors should begin with a tick-list assessment of goals needed or just wanted.

Planning the work to coincide with other lengthy projects or downtime offers time and financial efficiencies worth exploiting. And the financial aspects should survive a review by your accounts advisors to assure application of the maximum tax benefits allowed. Following is a quick- efficient sequence for tackling a cabin-systems upgrade.

1. Decide: Everything begins with the decision to rework the cabin- something feasible even without knowing every thing you want to accomplish. Decide to contract with a consultant- or engage with a shop to help you navigate the processes from initial plan to acceptance flight. And establish a base budget within which you’d like to stay- in concert with your new consultant’s input on what things will cost.

2. Prioritize: Here’s where the consultant or shop customer agent starts earning their keep; by bringing to you the options they know to be available for your aircraft- whether equipping a space devoid of any in-cabin electronics or upgrading from existing systems. There’s no point in pouring over specifications and capabilities for equipment inappropriate for your aircraft. From within the viable systems- you and your ally can begin to build a list of capabilities; those practical and needed versus those merely desirable and wanted in relation to your budget.

3. Shop around: Assuming you’ve got a list of practical and needed equipment- services and capabilities for your aircraft it is time to get the shops and completion centers to bid for the work package- maybe even coordinating with other needs – upholstery- cabin lighting- airframe major inspection- engine swaps and the like. Be aware that in some cases the hardware is approved in general terms with a Technical Standards Order (TSO) approval to vouch for its quality standards and capabilities- but installation in specific aircraft may not be covered by existing Supplemental Type Certificates (STC) while others enjoy a broad approval under an STC AML (Approved Model List) that amends the original with approvals for (sometimes) scores of additional airframes. On occasions- the shop will offer to perform the work in order to earn an STC that they’ll later market; these arrangements can be advantageous to the owner- but not necessarily timely.

4. Schedule the work: Bring the checkbook and the checklist- deliver the plane to the selected upgrade vendor- and prepare to stay in touch to monitor progress on your aircraft. If possible- visit the aircraft as it progresses and get your updates in person; you’ll learn a lot about how the airplane works inside the interior panels.

5. Acceptance Flights: Bringing the completed airplane to the point of an all-encompassing delivery flight may involve two- three or more flights with engineers and installers- regulatory authorities- and the owner’s representatives- at which point you should prepare for a full-range- technology-coached- inflight exercise in using all the new systems in as many configurations as possible. Repeat if necessary to become familiar with all the cabin’s capabilities.

Starting this year Cessna is offering Aircell’s Aviator 300 backbone system as an option on new Citation XLS+- Sovereign and Citation X aircraft. Thanks to full integration between the Aviator 300 and the Axxess cabin system- passengers and crew will be able to send and receive email (including attachments); surf the Internet; access a corporate Virtual Private Network (VPN); and control their access through their own Wi-Fi enabled laptop and tablet computers- smartphones and crew’s electronic flight bags (EFBs).

Cessna also offers Aircell’s GoGo Biz high-speed Internet backbone in new Citation CJ4s. Through GoGo Biz passengers and flight crews enjoy Internet capabilities in the continental U.S. and portions of Alaska – when above 10-000 msl. Like the Aviator 300 package- GoGo Biz works with passenger and crew Wi-Fi enabled laptops- tablets- smartphones and even EFBs. Gulfstream has also been breaking new ground with systems aboard its landmark G650 and smaller G280- with all the speedy capabilities you could ever expect – in access and entertainment.

Ascend Flight Information Solutions has succeeded Air Routing International after Rockwell Collins’ 2010 acquisition of the Houston-based company and its line of products and services – among them flight planning- cabin and maintenance services- and Collins’ Airshow Network. The company still offers satellite television- tailored moving maps and subscription-services management under the Ascend badge.

For operators with Collins’ first-generation PAVES in-flight entertainment system Rockwell Collins offers its new Digital Media Reproducer- a digital head-end replacement package for videotape-based IFE systems. Collins has again recognized a significant customer base – in this case about 1-600 first-generation PAVES systems flying – and developed for them an upgrade path that delivers plug-and-play speed and convenience for updating the front-end without replacing or upgrading the entire system.

Coming next from the folks in Cedar Rapids- Iowa: a virtual-surround sound upgrade for its second generation dPAVES IFE system. Integrated into Rockwell’s dPAVES high-definition media servers- the virtual-surround sound from SRS WOW HD gives passengers a theater-sound experience that can be tuned to any headset.

Meanwhile- Aircell’s broad product line spans the world of General Aviation- from piston singles to large-cabin jets and beyond- with solutions tailored to each level. Aircell also offers voice-only solutions to complement its full-spectrum packages. Best of all- most Aircell products are available for retrofit through STCs developed by the company’s dealer network. Among the most-recent- the Aircell GoGo Biz package in the Hawker 400XP/Beechjet 400A light jet- under an STC developed by Cutter Aviation in Phoenix.

ARINC offers in-cabin Internet service through the same Inmarsat SwiftBroadband network that Aircell employs. This long-time communications vendor is claiming a unique system that supports accelerated data transmission at the same time it supports voice phone calls using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

If you’ve ever seen a television ad for MagicJack or Vonage phone services- you’ve seen VoIP at work on Earth; with ARINC Direct- the aircraft cabin gets the same clear connection in-flight. Duncan Aviation offers a variety of solutions under STC- with plenty of help for the customer – starting with its ‘Making Sense of Wi-Fi: An Operator’s Guide to Aircraft Internet Options’. This resource can be found at

And Honeywell-owned EMS Technologies Inc. was already known for its satellite communications- robust mobile networking products and sturdy portable computers when the aircraft-systems giant acquired it last year. The same can be said for EMS Aviation and its surveillance- aerial networking and antenna hardware and more. One of EMS Aviation’s development targets is an Android-based telephone handset for use aboard business aircraft to complement its existing technologies for satellite- based messaging and tracking.

Flight Display Systems- meanwhile- is bringing The Cloud to the sky and is in the process of revolutionizing maintenance- support and repair for cabin electronics with what it calls ‘Cloud CMS Support Software’ to its suite of Cabin Management System products.

In essence the free software for qualifying products allows engineers on the ground to access the aircraft via any PC computer with 3G or Wi-Fi capabilities. The company also offers an iPad Arm Mount designed to directly replace existing arm mounts installed to hold other monitors eradicating the need to try to balance the iPad while sipping a beverage.

Further- Goodrich Interiors’ Cabin Electronic Systems’ In-Flight Entertainment and Cabin Management Systems now enjoy compatibility with your iPhone- iPad- or iPod Touch- bringing touchscreen control to the aircraft’s entertainment system- environmental controls and lighting through built-in Wi-Fi capabilities.

The control app loads into a CMS interface via a wireless access point to the control network. The app is then tailored to the aircraft to meet the wants and needs of the customer – much like Goodrich’s touch-screen customized control configurations.

InTheAirNet’s ‘a’-series seat display units provide passengers with access to a large seat display for playing their own content from their personal electronic devices (including Androids- iProducts- etc). The passengers enjoy options for playing their own content or for connecting to the Internet on broadband flights. The SDU system’s built-in storage and Android architecture allows programs to be synchronized to an aircraft’s flight stages- as well as edited for specific destinations- without the need for ‘a’ separate server.

And the company’s ‘ab’-series brings these features to smaller business jet aircraft (smaller up to the size of a Legacy 650- for example- versus the BBJ-size for which the a-series is designed). Thus you can see that advances in Cabin Avionics these past couple of years- and ongoing developments have meant that travel in a business aircraft can be as productive and comfortable as time spent in the ground-based office or at home. It’s down to you- the aircraft owner- however- to make sure you are aware of how to maximize the full potential of your specific aircraft for your travel needs.


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