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With so many cabin avionics solutions available, what do you really need?

With the numerous Cabin Avionics products and features available to corporate aviation departments, it is clear that one would have to give serious consideration regarding how to make the right selection. Fear not! This article is designed to help guide you through this arduous task, and ensure that you get the best value for your investment.

All of us are exposed to technology everyday, we check our emails and text messages at work, at home, the airport or at the local coffee shop. Pick any topic, enter a key word into your computer search engine and a myriad of links filled with information are at your fingertips. Nothing good on the local radio station? Not a problem - just plug in your digital recoding device and listen to your favorite tunes. Is cable television offering nothing but re-runs? Again no problem: Audio, Video on Demand (AVOD) has arrived.

Most of us take these conveniences for granted and even though we might not admit it, we are quickly frustrated if our email doesn't boot up in the morning, our cell phone has poor coverage or the local WI-FI is down. Habitually, every day we reach for our cell phones, personal digital assistants and laptops which we conveniently place next to our car keys and wallets. In our vehicles, we load the address of our next client we have to visit and follow the synthesized voice emanating from our Global Positioning Device. With ease we hit ‘speed dial’ to let our client know we will be there shortly.

The populace is consumed with all their gadgets as they carry on their daily routine… until they enter the pressurized cylinder of their corporate aircraft, that is.

On board the aircraft, one can worry at the thought of not being adequately connected, while hoping among the limited selection of DVDs on-board, there is one not yet seen.

Perhaps you plan work on that word document if only you can find a place to plug in your dead laptop battery. ‘If only I could have had another thirty minutes at the airport’, you ponder, ‘I could have finished the proposal and sent it to the customer’. By now, you are hoping the competitor will wait until you get off the plane in four hours time at your destination. The ‘No Service Available’ notification on your Blackberry has you wondering if you are missing a sales lead or important call or email. Even the distraction of that anticipated High Definition, surround-sound video you wanted to see is letting you down… it’s too bad the monitor has no “HD”, and the speaker positioned above your head over-modulates the stereo sound.

With companies expanding into the global market and long-range aircraft capable of flights of eight-10 hours, making sure you have the right cabin entertainment and office-type capabilities are essential. Demand is growing for a cabin environment that is similar to what is enjoyed on the ground, and manufacturers have done a great job creating viable products that meet this demand.


The selection process
Usually one of the crew or the director of maintenance in your flight department is tasked with researching what features, pricing and products are available to maximize productivity of air-time in the corporate aircraft. They summarize their research and present their findings to the aircraft owner.

This can be a daunting task, and usually results in the research being repeated because after further discussions with the owner you find they want equipment for, or have, different needs.

If your job is to research the correct cabin avionics for your company aircraft, it is vital you schedule a meeting with the owner before you do your research and discuss what features are needed from the outset. Maybe they read an article about email access on board the aircraft, or flew on another aircraft that had an advanced entertainment system. You need to establish the actual needs versus the wants when meeting at this stage and as a result of that, it would be very helpful if you could obtain an estimated budget they are willing to spend for this upgrade.

Keep in mind that if the upgrade seems substantial, you will need to consider the benefits with the owner of waiting until your next maintenance inspection is scheduled to reduce downtime for the aircraft. Perhaps the interior is coming out, and is part of the inspection. This can reduce costs usually associated with larger cabin upgrades.

By establishing some budget and timing guidelines, you are better prepared to do your research.

In addition, most flight departments have a local avionics shop manager or salesperson that they rely on for information - and this would obviously be a great place to start. But proceed with caution! Before scheduling a meeting, make sure this person keeps abreast of the latest products by attending trade shows and is educated on your aircraft type and how it is currently outfitted. Confirm that they have experience and/or testimonials with similar work previously performed on other aircraft.

Does the Manager take the time to listen to your requirements, and do they ask the pertinent questions? More importantly write down all the details. Just because the local person is reliable and knowledgeable on King Airs and Citations, doesn't mean they are the right person to help consult on your upgrade for your Gulfstream or Falcon aircraft. There are many differences in options available to the larger business aircraft than the mid-size aircraft!

Since your meeting with the boss revealed some necessities he is looking for, and with discretionary monies ever so tight in these economic times, it’s critical that you match product features and capabilities with costs and aircraft type to achieve the maximum productivity for the passengers in the cabin.

It may make very good sense to start with a review of what is currently installed on the aircraft to see if the existing systems can be enhanced to achieve your objectives - thus reducing costs and possible downtime associated with installing an entirely new system on the aircraft.


Large corporate aircraft
The large corporate aircraft, including Airbus and Boeings, Bombardier Global models, Dassault Falcons and some Gulfstream models (just to mention a few), offer the best platform on which to expand cabin capabilities, because they are generally already outfitted with systems that just need to be enhanced to reach their full potential.

Cabin and fuselage size alone offer options that medium and small size aircraft just can't have - and typically, larger aircraft already have a radome that houses a Satellite Communication system supported by Inmarsat's global satellite network and a standard entertainment system.

It is important to remember that this class of aircraft is typically purchased because the client has the need to travel internationally; therefore, product selection and capabilities invariably need to match those requirements. With longer periods in the air, the need for acceptable levels of communication with the ground for business purposes increases with the need for comfort and relaxation.

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