Cabin Management Systems: Which are the Best for Retrofit?

Is it possible to retrofit the latest and greatest in Cabin Management Systems aboard your aircraft? What are the leading systems available for retrofit? Chris Kjelgaard speaks to a selection of industry experts…

Chris Kjelgaard  |  21st August 2020
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    Chris Kjelgaard
    Chris Kjelgaard

    Chris Kjelgaard has been an aviation journalist for more than 40 years and has written on multiple topics...

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    Collins Venue installed on a Dassault Falcon jet

    Needed for controlling cabin environmental functions such as seat and cabin lighting, temperature, window-shade operation, galley functionality, lavatory lighting and controlling aircraft exterior cameras, the cabin management system (CMS) is a standard feature in every new business aircraft delivered. But which are the best for retrofit?

    Not all systems are the same. The composition of the different line-replaceable units (LRUs) which comprise the CMS can vary from aircraft to aircraft, depending on a customer’s particular cabin-control and cabin-functionality requirement.

    The good news is that modern digital CMSs are available not only for installation in new aircraft, but to customers wishing to bring new or upgraded CMS functionality to their existing aircraft cabins.

    Steve Elofson, a senior avionics sales executive for Duncan Aviation, says customers often decide to do so either upon purchasing a used aircraft or to replace an out-of-production system (such as those formerly made by Baker Electronics or Audio International) during a major maintenance check.

    For example, Elofson says some Bombardier Global 5000s and 6000s originally delivered with Collins Aerospace’s previous-generation Cabin Electronics System are being retrofitted because the older installations had standard-definition video displays as opposed to high-definition.

    A Rich Variety of Choice and Pricing

    Customers looking for a suitable CMS for retrofit have plenty of choice, says Elofson. Various turnkey CMSs are available and all of these are scalable to offer just the LRUs needed for customized requirements.

    Additionally, for retrofits in used aircraft (particularly smaller and older ones), the larger CMS OEMs will often work closely with smaller OEMs to offer systems comprised of LRUs from two or more OEMs so they can meet budget constraints.

    For example, Alto Aviation and Rosen Aviation (known for high-quality cabin surround-sound audio systems and cutting-edge OLED and LCD cabin video displays) each offer their own branded CMSs, and often work closely with Collins Aerospace and Honeywell Aerospace.

    As the vendor most directly involved with the end customer, the company which performs the retrofit installation – almost always a third-party maintenance provider such as Duncan Aviation – can also be intimately involved in the LRU-composition decision.

    This company also does the engineering-planning and software-development work needed to ensure that the CMS retrofit meets the customer’s exact functionality and system-cost requirements, and is accomplished quickly and efficiently.

    Owners and operators scouring the market for a new CMS solution will find the OEM don’t usually discuss CMS pricing. That’s because every CMS retrofit is individually customized.

    Modern CMS systems are widely scalable and the vendor performing the retrofit installation is the company which quotes the customer for the work.

    However, Elofson says relatively simple CMS retrofits in smaller business aircraft typically can be accomplished in a 4-8 week downtime, costing between $200k and $400k. More complex CMS retrofit installations in larger jets will cost between $500k and $1m, and require 10 weeks or more to complete.

    The more planning, equipment research and customer consultation the vendor performs before the installation, the quicker and more ‘on-point’ the job is likely to be. Customers should also plan carefully for handling additional CMS functionality and the capability upgrades they might desire in the medium-term, Elofson adds. 

    These might include further upgrading a retrofit CMS from displaying HD video in order to control 4K – and ultimately 8K – UHD video displays, for example.

    What are the Top CMSs Available for Retrofit?

    According to Elofson, three top-of-the-line systems dominate today’s CMS retrofit market for Mid-Size and Large Cabin business jets. These include:

    • Lufthansa Technik: nice Touch
    • Collins Aerospace: Venue
    • Honeywell: Ovation Select

    Dave Crossett, director of channel development for nice in Lufthansa Technik’s (LHT’s) Original Equipment Innovation division, says the system can be scaled for everything from the Embraer Phenom 100 to the Boeing Business Jet family. Collins Aerospace similarly claims Venue can be scaled for everything from King Airs to very large VVIP aircraft.

    Lufthansa Technik's nice Touch user interface in a Bombardier Learjet 75

    These two systems rely on Ethernet platforms connecting to other items of in-house or third-party OEM cabin equipment. The companies’ branded CMS LRUs include:

    • Ethernet switches;
    • Interfaces to the onboard satcoms terminals;
    • Bulkhead and seat-arm HD displays;
    • Branded moving-map HD displays and content;
    • Touchscreen control units;
    • PED control;
    • Hard-button switching;
    • Amplifier/decoders/encoders;
    • Central processors;
    • HDMI and USB ports;
    • Blu-Ray players;
    • Bluetooth receiving and transmitting to audio systems; and
    • Media servers providing trademarked content offerings.

    In the nice system, galley control panels provide MRO diagnostic-data downloads and crew-configurable presets, enhancing operating flexibility and scalability. nice (which is now in its fourth generation) and Venue each have been installed in more than 1,300 aircraft. While most have been new aircraft, both systems have seen hundreds of retrofit installations.

    Crossett says nice has been most popular as a retrofit option in Large Cabin business jets. LHT is under contract to introduce its fourth-generation nice system within 18 months, and this should feature 4K UHD displays and CMS voice control. Collins, meanwhile, notes that many customers retrofitting bizjet cabins with Venue will find the system is smaller, lighter and uses less power than the CMS it replaces.

    Collins Venue installed on a Bombardier Global Express (Courtesy of Duncan Aviation)

    Meanwhile, Honeywell’s latest-generation Ovation Select CMS for retrofit in Super Mid-size jets features galley and seat touchscreen monitors and personal control units (one optional PCU being Bluetooth-capable); large cabin monitor displays; a region-free HD Blu-Ray player; an Alto Aviation surround-sound cabin speaker system; HDMI/USB ports; discrete switch panels; an auxiliary HDMI/USB panel for distributing AVOD content to passengers’ PEDs; a moving map; and an interface to Honeywell’s JetWave Ka-band satcom terminal. Satellite TV content is also available.

    While Gulfstream Aerospace provides the branded Gulfstream Cabin Management System for new G650s and G280s, it also provides it aboard G550s and G450s as part of the Elite Interior cabin option.

    Honeywell touts Ovation Select as a retrofit option for all those types, and also the GIV and GV, along with 20 other Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Embraer and Hawker Midsize/ Super Mid-size jet types.

    Alto Aviation Cadence

    According to Elofson, Alto Aviation’s Cadence system is relatively inexpensive and ideal for replacing obsolescent push-button CMS systems.

    Although Cadence is a simple-to-operate push-button system itself, its switch panels employ discrete digital logic and no system software is involved. Cadence’s switch panels directly replace the panels of older CMSs without requiring any woodwork modification.

    While Alto says Cadence can be installed as a newdelivery system in any business aircraft or rotorcraft, it targets Gulfstream GIV/GV/G150/G200s, Cessna Citation Xs, Bombardier Challenger 601/604s, Dassault Falcon 50/900s and Embraer Legacy 600s fitted with obsolete Pacific Systems, Audio International or Baker Electronics CMSs.

    According to Cristina Scarlata, Alto Aviation’s marketing director, Cadence is scalable and is available for controlling HD and SD displays.

    And the company now offers an off-the-shelf Cadence solution for older aircraft, which Scarlata says was designed as an “easy on the pocket” retrofit option for certain turboprop models and the G100/G150/G200. This provides more than 35 switch panels, and (Alto warrants) will be completed within two weeks of Alto receiving the order. At least 100 Cadence systems have been installed aboard Bombardier Challengers to date.

    Alto Aviation Cabin Management System

    Collins Aerospace eConnect

    In addition to its Venue solution, Collins also offers eConnect cabin-management, wireless connectivity and in-flight entertainment system for small business aircraft and rotorcraft.

    Its HTML5-based graphical user interface allows control of cabin lighting, streamed HD in-flight entertainment and wireless connectivity via any internet browser installed in any device which can access eConnect’s integrated Wi-Fi.

    And also worth considering for retrofit, in Elofson’s view, is Mid Continent Controls’ Aurora CMS. Describing Aurora as “very capable, simple and discrete”, the system is often found in Cessna Citation models. Aurora includes a wireless router for streaming content and file-sharing; touchscreen switch panels; and push-button seat controls installed in bases which are customizable to the customer’s requirement in terms of numbers of switches, switch configuration and switch function at each location.

    Rosen Aviation’s Eye on the Future

    Finally, while Rosen Aviation’s smart displays and seat armrest personal control units provide touchscreen control of CMS functions, including audio-video distribution (the company also supplies an AVOD distribution unit), and some of Rosen’s smart displays additionally offer Wi-Fi 6 capability and Bluetooth 4 wireless control from PEDs, there are some exciting features in development by the company, too.

    According to Lee Clark, senior vice-president, strategy, Rosen Aviation, the company is developing touchless switches – which work on the hologram principle – for embedding in cabin tables, as well as proximity-sensor technologies which will offer passengers different system control possibilities depending on where they are in the cabin.

    And Rosen is also working on voice- and gesture-control technologies for CMSs and later this year will launch a casting capability which will allow passengers to show content from their PEDs on cabin displays.

    In Summary…

    There should be no excuse to be flying with an outdated, non-functional CMS aboard your business jet today. There are plenty of retrofit options available to the market tailored to a wide variety of needs. And as demonstrated, the developments in this market will continue to flow – so when you plan your next cabin upgrade, do so with an eye on the future.

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