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Cabin electronics keep us working- connected and relaxed.

Remembering the first time business required me to use an in-flight phone invites me to remember my age and remains a constant reminder of my gratitude for modern cabin electronics… for cabin phones and a live connection- at least. There were no other cabin electronics back then.

Even that phone was a relatively revolutionary development- and all the more remarkable at the time- my phone access didn’t come from a first-class cabin of a jetliner- but in the main cabin of a light jet only tall enough for me to duck-walk along. Folks back then foresaw a day when air-to-ground chatting would be as everyday an occurrence as flight itself.

And sure enough- phones followed in more corporate aircraft cabins- and to those Human Mailing Tubes we call airliners – usually one or two- then for a seat row and- in some cases- for every seat.

Chatting- though- never really became inexpensive enough to be “commonplace-” and phones proved to be at their most useful when travelers’ plans changed and folks needed to update someone on the ground.

So how about air-to-air calling? Air-to-air calling pretty much stayed the purview of corporate aircraft users and only if they knew the number of the other jet they wanted to contact.

But my memory also recalls predictions of a day when passengers could not only talk- but also listen to music- watch videos- and in a technological coup- send a fax over that air-phone line. Amazing! Well… it sounded “amazing” back then.

Today- however- technology has advanced the state of the back-cabin art. You can make a better-quality call and still send a fax.

If you need entertainment instead of more work- you can indulge in audio and video forms- pre-recorded or live via satellite! Those same cabin screens can support video conferencing via on-board computing using your notebook- powered from a plug next to the seat. And if you don’t need to video conference- you can work through internet access – or access the company intranet! And if you need to send an e-mail- then click away.

Compared to what you can find in a corporate cabin today- making that phone call all those years ago sounds a little quaint. Depending on how the aircraft works for its operator- an aircraft can boast just a few- or perhaps all of the accoutrements required to enjoy all the available options.

Needs versus Wants
A full cabin-electronics package may seem excessive for aircraft that seldom stay aloft beyond the average mission length – the time it takes to cover the average business flight’s typical stage length- 350 to 500 nautical miles - we’re talking a range of an hour to 100 minutes.

Given the weight considerations requisite with lighter jets- loading up on superfluous gear could be counterproductive- cutting into the aircraft’s range or cabin payload. As cabins get larger and their typical stage length grows longer- though- the utility and appeal of the option list can also grow. And when you consider aircraft capable of staying aloft eight- 10- even 12 hours straight- the range of options become more akin to necessities than options.

Much of the business world is always at work regardless of your time zone and it seems to move as fast as electrons through a wire – at light speed. Taking a disconnect of hours might have been acceptable before that first in-flight phone made a connection from the first aircraft to carry one. Today- however- deals can rise or fall on the ability to communicate and move information rapidly to those in need. Weighing how a possible cabin-electronic upgrade impacts an aircraft’s mission should be a multi-tiered process: Can the aircraft effectively accommodate the possible upgrade without degrading its ability to perform its primary mission? Will an upgrade improve work efficiency through sufficient use to make it worthwhile? Or will it go unused more than used because the users aren’t in the air long enough to make it useful?

If connectivity systems – those capable of allowing an on-board computer to access ground Internet or Intranet – are under consideration- are there any compatibility issues to resolve? And will any such system support enough users to provide the desired degree of utility?

Indeed- timing the installation of a new or improved cabin-electronics system should be weighed against the aircraft’s schedule. Most operators want the aircraft available as much as required maintenance allows.

Coordinating the work with other down-time can prevent an unwanted interruption in the aircraft’s availability.

With these things said- let’s look at some of the systems available that are geared to improve productivity and the quality of non-work time when traveling by private aircraft.

Gulfstream’s BBML
BBML stands for Broad Band Multi-Link - the high-speed connectivity system offered by Gulfstream Aerospace for business jets. Looking at the specifications in comparison to my local cable connection Gulfstream’s BBML looks pretty good. With data transfer speeds of up to 3.5 Mbps- BBML provides enough capability to support regular Internet access- e-mail- and to move large email attachments. As Gulfstream improves on BBML- customers can expect the service to also support data-taxing tasks like video conferencing with voice and imaging.

Thanks to its in-cabin wireless network- a user need only boot up the laptop- log into the aircraft’s BBML portal and the connection is off and running.

Gulfstream offers BBML on models ranging from its G300 all the way up to the G550 - but the planemaker also offers BBML for installation in other brands of large-cabin business jets.

More information from www.gulfstream.com/bbml/

EMS Technologies
A long-time player in the field of airborne-internet connectivity- EMS Technologies offers components designed to work together as a seamless package- as well as components that can upgrade some existing in-cabin systems.

The company’s eNfusion HSD Terminal offers fast connections to e-mail- the web- corporate network and video conferencing. The eNfusion AMT-3800 high-gain antenna serves as the conduit to the cabin from the orbiting satellites that provide the datalink- while the CNX Cabin Gateway completes the link between ground and the notebook computer.

With the CNX-400- the service can also bring integrated voice and data to the same connection. Another plus of the EMS Technologies package is its support for Electronic Flight Bags and on-board safety data services useful for the flight crew and the welfare of the aircraft.

More information from www.emssatcom.com/aircraft/corporate.aspx

Rockwell Collins
As you might expect from a company known for its integrated flight-deck hardware- Rockwell Collins also offers an integrated solution for the cabin. Rockwell Collins' fully-integrated cabin management systems (CMS) gives the traveler complete control over the airborne suite.

For business- the company’s CMS provides wireless connectivity- high speed data and printer/fax capabilities. For relaxation diversions in the airborne suite- CMS gives the traveler control over a home theater in the sky that mirrors the variety available in the family den – DVD/CD- music from an MP3 player or iPod- even satellite TV and all the choices it encompasses.

Perhaps you’d like to keep track of your progress? CMS will also allow you to access moving maps and flight information. This integrated cabin management system leaves out nothing essential to remaining completely connected through the company’s eXchange service and SKYLINK hardware. Satellite television is available through the company’s Tailwind hardware systems.

More information from www.rockwellcollins.com

Honeywell and Thales
You could have the technicians install a MCS-7200 Satcom system for connection through the Swift64 and Swiftbroadband network- and bring to the aircraft benefits for those in the back cabin and on the flight deck- as well.

This SATCOM hardware package offers first-call connection with the clarity and signal strength of a digital office phone line. The two companies’ package also provides data and fax communications- plus the added ability to use a high-speed data connection for Internet access and e-mail service at speeds of up to 256 kbps. The two partners’ plans target improvements to more than triple current data-transfer speeds. This network also provides the flight crew with direct- digital voice communications with Air Traffic Control. The digital automatically reports the time- aircraft position- altitude and a wealth of other aircraft-status information.

More information from www.honeywell.com

Flight Display Systems
A specialist in in-flight entertainment- Flight Display Systems offers its Ellipse TV system as a low-cost option for bringing live satellite television to the corporate aircraft cabin. In late February- FDS won a Supplemental Type Certificate for its Ellipse TV hardware installed in a Challenger 600 and was expecting expansion of the STC to include the rest of the Challenger 600 series- up to and including the 605. While approvals were also in the works for other large-cabin jets- including models of the Gulfstream line- one major aspect of Ellipse TV in which the company expects to make it a strong contender is its compact size and light weight. According to the company- the hardware is small enough and light enough for installation in business-turbine aircraft ranging down to single-engine propjets such as the Cessna Caravan and Pilatus PC-12.

The heart of the system’s adaptability is a low-profile antenna that mounts on the aircraft fuselage. Both mechanically steered and phased array in functionality- this elliptical antenna adds less height than typical satellite antennae- yet retains the ability to change orientation at rates as high as 40 degrees per second- reducing the prospects of loss of signal.

And this system is in addition to other cabin-entertainment products made by FDS- products that encompass LCD monitors – from seat-back size to 42-inch bulkhead-mounted models – as well as wireless audio packages and in-cabin DVD players.

More information from www.ellipsetv.com

Avionics Innovations
The designer and manufacturer of a full line of audio and video entertainment systems for the aircraft cabin- Avionics Systems- offers its AI-DVD/CD unit as the backbone of an IFE system.

Combining AM/FM receiver- CD/DVD player and Sirius Satellite Radio coverage- AI’s hardware is designed to work seamlessly with the company’s line of LCD displays. The displays satisfy the needs for seat-back installations- pedestal or bulkhead mounting.

For cabins large enough to support several individual seating areas- the company also offers audio and video amplifiers to assure a quality signal throughout the installation. And individual control units give passengers control over the media they want in any given area.

More information from www.avionicsinnovations.com

Rosen Aviation
For the ‘videophile’- Rosen Aviation’s LCD cabin displays represent the pinnacle of visual imaging and imaginary mounting solutions. Rosen’s SlimLine articulating arm assemblies bring to individual seats and club areas the flexibility to make the screen fit your viewing position. The company’s 42-inch high-definition gas-plasma screens provide home-theater quality in a bulkhead-mountable package worthy of any executive aircraft.

And the company’s new RosenView offers a combination passenger-briefing system and moving-map display that puts the viewer in control of map-detail level- zoom range of the image displayed and the ability to customize the briefing information to the specific aircraft. When combined with the Rosen DVD player- passengers can view the mapping system- watch a DVD- or through the auxiliary input- plug-in their personal hand-held device such as an audio/video iPod or video gaming system. Operators can program the system with their free configuration software to display a company logo and welcome-aboard greetings. And in co-operation with Heads-Up Technologies- RosenView LXM offers the advantages of XM Satellite Radio’s WX Weather feed- providing access to a host of weather-reporting images and live radar and storm information for the Continental U.S.

More information from www.rosenaviation.com

TrueNorth
TrueNorth Avionics- meantime- manufactures the executive-class Simphone – as in “symphony” - airborne telecommunications system- which is a single-LRU package that's both an airborne telephone and a PBX cabin management system. As such- it offers users of the old MagnaStar service and phone hardware an upgrade path that avoids the problems coming when the service ends later this year. Working with Duncan Aviation’s Battle Creek- Michigan- facility- the company recently performed its first MagnaStar upgrade on a Gulfstream IV.

Providing easy-to-use menu-driven handsets- unlimited expansion capability and two channels of digital Iridium Satcom- the Simphone Chorus or Duo deliver global voice and data access. Simphone is capable of integrating with existing on-board digital and analog Satcom hardware- and the systems also support TrueNorth’s just-introduced Iridium facsimile and ACARS datalink capabilities.

Simphone also offers options for global broadband data service and other network expansion options through its open-architecture foundation for retrofit.

More information from www.truenorthavionics.com

The options continue…
If you didn’t see something here that fits your own current or future need- do not worry. More options are available and new ones seem to become available on a regular basis. And the convention of the Aircraft Electronics Association in Washington- D.C.- (due within weeks of this writing) promised even more introductions.

In the meantime- starting the transition to the in-cabin office and entertainment systems can start with an honest assessment of current capabilities and future needs.


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