Helicopter Cabin Electronics: How to Get it Right

Helicopters naturally have different cabin electronics demands to business jets. Nevertheless, there are a range of considerations for business operators to keep in mind, according to industry experts. Gerrard Cowan explores…

Gerrard Cowan  |  08th June 2021
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    Gerrard Cowan
    Gerrard Cowan

    Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who focuses on aerospace and finance. In addition to his regular...

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    A corporate helicopter user works on his laptop

    Generally, owners and operators use personal and corporate turbine helicopters in different ways than typical jet and turboprop operations, notes Frederic Lemos, Head of Airbus Corporate Helicopters, the manufacturer’s dedicated platform for corporate aviation customers. This, in turn, affects their priorities in terms of desired cabin facilities...

    Typically, a helicopter flight leg is perhaps 30-45 minutes and rarely longer than 90 minutes, compared to potentially several hours on a jet. Unsurprisingly, jet customers look for – and are willing to pay for – a comprehensive package of cabin facilities, including in-flight entertainment (IFE) and connectivity.

    “In a helicopter, with its lower flight duration, that is much less of a priority,” Lemos told AvBuyer. ‘Additionally, those kinds of systems contribute proportionately more to both cost and weight than in a business jet.”

    With that said, there is no doubt that helicopter passengers also wish to ensure seamless connectivity in flight, “just as at all other times in their lives”. This can be an expensive option in a helicopter, Lemos explains, though “it is perfectly possible to utilise 4G connectivity, and the majority of flights are conducted within 4G coverage”.

    Typical Cabin Electronics for Corporate Helicopters

    Lemos notes a strong trend in all aircraft types, including turbine helicopters towards passengers using their own Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs), with their own apps. This is well-suited to helicopter cabins. According to Lemos, the ACH160 and ACH175 both offer Bluetooth-enabled headsets to enhance this experience, while all ACH models have USB connectors available for charging.

    LED lighting has today been “very much incorporated into the interior and exterior of the aircraft”, says Stacy Sheard, a corporate helicopter captain and the current chair of the Helicopter Association International (HAI). 

    The brightness, lighter weight and low power draw makes LEDs “the go-to lighting for a vast number of helicopter applications”. And Sheard points to a range of other cabin electronics that are now typical for corporate users, including onboard Wi-Fi, power plugs, and USB ports.

    Many passengers can today also view a moving map or multiple camera views of their aircraft, while they can listen to music over a cabin speaker system, controlled from their tablet device.

    Additionally, “you won’t find any corporate-configured aircraft these days that doesn’t have an air conditioner,” Sheard says, with many of these now part of passenger-controlled environmental systems, perhaps controlled from a smartphone app or other PED.

    In recent years, Leonardo has been investing heavily in cabin management systems (CMS) and IFE features for its platforms, according to a spokesperson for the company. The cabins are designed to allow passengers to take control using their PEDs, with the ability to tailor their environment with lighting; relax with music and movies via their own devices; and set their desired cabin temperature.

    Additionally, flight maps and cruise information are integrated with the entertainment system.

    Weight is Crucial for Heli Cabin Electronics

    Weight is a crucial element for helicopter models, so providing solutions where the CMS is managed through PEDs, thereby reducing the need for monitors and screens, is important.

    Moreover, use of such technology also reduces the risks of obsolescence issues generated by technologies specifically designed for aeronautics, the Leonardo spokesperson said.

    “A merged system between CMS and IFE allows owners and passengers to comfortably fly – setting their favorite mood light and desired temperature on board – and to follow their flights over mountains and oceans on the moving map through their personal devices,” the spokesperson added.

    Converging User Expectations

    ALTO Aviation provides a range of CMS, audio and other equipment and services across all types of Business Aviation platforms, and company President Don Hamilton notes that despite the obvious differences in capacity, noise and other areas between helicopters, business jets, and turboprop aircraft, there are some elements where user expectations are converging.

    ALTO recently worked with a customer which operates both helicopters and business jets, and “Was looking for a common feel between them – they didn’t want to learn how to operate two completely different systems”, Hamilton shares.

    This essentially means that the customer’s PED recognizes the CMS or IFE systems onboard both types of aircraft, so that they step from one to the other “and everything automatically moves over”.

    Cabin Electronics: The Most Important Consideration…

    When considering cabin electronics for any aircraft, the most important element is that owners consider the precise use of the platform, with a business operator likely having different demands to a family using the aircraft for private transportation.

    Aboard a helicopter, a family may want more inputs, so that the kids can play video games on the short flight, Hamilton explains. A business flight would have different demands, perhaps simply background music, if anything, he adds.

    “The biggest thing that any turbine helicopter owner can do is figure out how they’re actually going to use the cabin electronics,” Hamilton concludes.

    For the latest Cabin Electronics articles, answers to your FAQs, quick tips and more, visit the Cabin Electronics for Private Planes hub.

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