Cabin Electronics: New Functionality for Older Jets

Is the cabin electronics functionality dated in your business jet? What’s available to breathe new jet functionality into your cabin? Brian Wilson reviews what’s popular now, offering tips on how to enjoy a successful upgrade path...

Brian Wilson  |  07th July 2022
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Brian Wilson
Brian Wilson

Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director...

Executives using cabin electronics on a private jet


Finding the pre-owned airplane that matches your mission need can be a daunting task. Even more challenging is redesigning the cabin to give it a fresh new look, feel and functionality – but that’s often what is required to bring optimal productivity from your newly acquired plane.

Like buying a pre-owned home, once the aesthetics have been addressed, the fun begins. The Business Aviation market offers an abundance of upgrade options relating to the cabin’s electronics. Whether you’ve recently purchased a pre-owned jet or have been flying your current airplane for several years, it’s worth reviewing the cabin, making a note of the areas where functionality could be improved.

As you open your eyes to the possibilities of bringing new jet functionality to your older plane, you’ll need to consult with a seasoned advisor. They will help narrow down the focus, homing in on the products that enable the functionality you need, and assisting with your upgrade project.

First, there is a variety of items that you might be considering upgrading or installing to help bring new jet functionality to your older airplane. These include:

  • Moving Maps
  • Connectivity (Wi-Fi)
  • Cabin Management Systems
  • LED lighting
  • High-Definition 4K Monitors
  • Chargers, USB Ports, and HDMI Ports
  • Cell phone/iPad Mounts.

What are the Popular Cabin Electronics Upgrades?

Before moving into the practicalities of bringing new jet functionality to your older jet, let’s look at some of the popular upgrades in each of these areas...

Moving Maps: These have been synonymous with Collins Aerospace for many years, and today Collins still offers the Airshow 500, 4000 and the new ASXi HD interactive map.

Loaded with geographical facts, passengers can learn about the world as they fly with ASXi HD, and by downloading the mobile App passengers can view the 3D map on their own Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs).

Connectivity: While this area could form an article of its own, we’ll focus on some high-level points. Determining where you fly will help identify the correct system for modernizing your cabin’s connectivity/Wi-Fi.

Owners and operators of Super Mid- size and Large Cabin jets may consider Honeywell’s Jet ConneX system, Viasat or Collins Luxstream, which are either Ku- or Ka-band satellite connectivity solutions, bringing connectivity to the cabin in most parts of the world.

For aircraft flying primarily in the United States, Gogo’s AVANCE Air-to-Ground connectivity platform not only provides internet access, but movies, TV shows and moving map functions, helping cover the in-flight entertainment, too.

Cabin Management Systems (CMS): There are many CMS’ installed in older jets that are twelve-plus years old, and face obsolescence. Upgrades can be very expensive – but the CMS plays an integral part in the modernization of a cabin space.

So what’s popular, currently? Collins Aerospace’s Venue is installed in over 1,300 aircraft. A fiber optic-based system which can be controlled by either intuitive touchscreens or by a passenger’s PED, the system also has fully integrated moving map and Wi-Fi capabilities.

Alternatively, ALTO Aviation provides a customized system that will meet the needs of any audiophile. Based on the ALTO Cadence system, a new feature called ALTO MySound was created which enables passengers to direct acoustic stereo or surround sound directly to their seat, at the push of a button.

Elliott Technologies’ Prizm lighting systemLED Lighting: Aircraft Lighting International (ALI) offers a vast array of Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting options, providing greater intensity and longer life than conventional incandescent lights.

The LED colour and intensity can be designed to cover any mood, from bright and fresh (promoting productivity), to muted (promoting rest and relaxation). ASI also provides a direct replacement for many legacy products, thus reducing downtime and costs.

And don’t overlook Elliott Technologies’ Prizm lighting system, featuring full-color spectrum mood lighting controlled through a mobile App and existing cabin lighting controls. Available for upwash, downwash, lower accent, galley, lavatory and cupholders, the Prizm lighting system is expandable to meet the needs of most business jets and turboprops.

High-Definition Monitors: Rosen Aviation leads the way for aircraft monitors, and many In-Flight Entertainment companies like Collins Aerospace and Honeywell use Rosen’s monitors as part of their IFE solutions.

Monitors range from 22” to 55” and include Ultra-High-Definition (UHD) and 4K options. Nine- and 12-inch plug-in HD monitors are also available that can be located at each seat, allowing a personal control and optimum viewing.

In late 2021, Rosen announced a full line of Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) monitors, which provide a significantly wider, better viewing angle over standard UHD LED or LCD monitors.

Gogo AVANCE

 

 Chargers/USB & HDMI Ports: Peripheral devices (although seen by many as somewhat ‘humdrum’), are essential to any cabin upgrade, given the proliferation of carry-on devices among today’s Business Aviation passengers.

If you’ve ever travelled with plans to finish some work, or update your social media, and the charging units are non-existent, or not operating while your PED’s battery drains away, you’ll have suddenly understood their necessity.

Within this category, we also include Bluetooth for music and headphones, and auxiliary panels. Companies such as Rosen Aviation and Flight Display Systems (FDS) offer many solutions that will meet your needs.

Cell phone/iPad Mounts: Providing mounting brackets for Personal Electronic Devices is a great idea. Cell phones, iPads and tablets must be held or propped up to make the viewing of a movie or TV show adequate in-flight.

It’s worth noting that mounting brackets can also have a charging port, and even an HDMI interface, allowing content stored on the device to be displayed on a monitor.

Five Steps to New Jet Functionality in Your Plane

Having discussed some (but by no means all) of the exciting upgrade options available to modernize your cabin, there are five key steps towards gaining new jet functionality in your older jet:

  1. Envision how you want your cabin to look and feel.
  2. With the help of an expert, select the components and features needed to create this passenger experience.
  3. Work with an MRO shop with a seasoned CMS engineer on staff and provide them will ALL your current wiring diagrams and CMS software levels.
  4. Have the engineer whiteboard the existing system along with the new configuration.
  5. Be prepared that the result to achieve your goal could be a whole new installation.

Be Prepared to Overcome Obstacles

Though there’s a danger our five steps to new jet functionality in older jets could ‘over-simplify’ things, the importance of the engagement of your trusted MRO shop, well ahead of any desired upgrade, will prove essential when you consider some of the obstacles and challenges that sit in the path of a possible upgrade. These include:

Cabin Audio - ALTO MySound

 

Compatibility: A focal point of your upgrade, you must establish whether an upgrade option is compatible with your aircraft, as you attempt to integrate the newer technology into your older model. That’s especially the case for the CMS system.

For example, obsolescence becomes a problem for many older CMS systems, and analog switch panels will require relabelling, while the digital types require software revisions.

Existing audio/video controllers might already be fully utilized, with no open ports for new sources. Or they may not offer modern capabilities such as HDMI. Existing monitors are unlikely to be ‘smart’ devices, causing interface problems – or at the very least reducing functionality.

Long Lead Times: CMS components and software revisions can have long lead-times, so stay laser-focused to finalize what you need, and get everything ordered in plenty of time.

There should be a checklist showing the quantity of components and software levels required.

Interior Modifications: Another area of concern will be to address any interior modifications needed to support the new components.

Bulkheads and panels might have to be redesigned and fabricated to fit new monitors. Drink rails and side panels may need alteration to fit the new switching units. Window lines or the headliner could require modification to fit new speakers.

Audio technology has come a long way in the last 12-15 years, and newer systems use many smaller directional speakers to deliver the best audio fidelity, again necessitating alterations to the panels/bulkheads.

In Summary...

There is nothing more exciting than purchasing a new aircraft and redesigning the cabin, or bringing new life to the stale cabin of an existing aircraft, enhancing your in-flight experience.

Advancements in technology for today’s business aircraft allow even the most extreme expectations to be met, assuming the budget is available to match. But regardless of the extent of the vision and upgrade project, it remains vital to take your time to properly plan the upgrade, establishing a timeline.

If you solicit the expertise of a trusted MRO shop and advisor, you’ll soon be enjoying new jet capability in your older jet’s cabin.

Read more articles on Avionics for Business Aviation


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Brian Wilson

Brian Wilson

Editor, Jet Connectivity

Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director of Key Accounts at Gogo Business Aviation

Having worked 35 years in Business Aviation, Brian lists Jet Aviation West Palm Beach and Banyan Aviation amongst his previous employers where he has developed and planned STC certifications projects on cabin connectivity. He has been involved in more than 1,000 avionics installations, having previously headed up various avionics, engineering, and interior departments.


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