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AVOIDING THE ‘GOTCHAS’!

Early- thorough planning can eliminate nasty surprises later

In today’s fast-paced technologically-advanced society it’s hard not to hear about the latest and greatest technological gadgets. We’ve already looked at some of them in this month’s Plane Sense on Cabin Avionics section. Yet for those of us utilizing aircraft for business- it can sometimes seem we’re forever stuck ‘behind the eight ball’ when it comes to technological advances concerning useful tools for the passengers in the back cabin.

For users of aircraft- the simple things we use everyday on the ground are not always readily available for the corporate aircraft- or if they are- the cost and prices are very high compared with our home-based device in some cases.

First we should consider why there is a disparity between what we see and use at home versus what we have available for aircraft utilization. The first mental hurdle to overcome is to understand the difference between your home-based system versus the aircraft system. Even if the operations are very similar there is one main difference; the aircraft-based system must pass FAA regulations.

Remember the infamous $80-000 screwdriver story that was circulated many years ago? The US Air Force paid an OEM $80k to design a tool for aviation use. The OEM then had to present drawings to show how it was made- and during manufacture maintain records on everything from receiving the parts through manufacturing of the tool. Once built they then had to show upkeep with more record keeping- follow through with any changes and updates- and ensure nothing could happen to allow the tool to damage other aviation parts.

Of course- this is only an example used to emphasize the point that we cannot simply use a $99.00 iPod and have it installed on an aircraft for $99.00 plus installation. In order for any item to be utilized on an aircraft it must be shown to be manufactured- operated and used according to many FAA and Government regulations to ensure it will not endanger the passengers and crew or other equipment during its use on the aircraft.

Needless to say there are additional costs for aviation appliances and electronics that many people have a hard time understanding. For the above reasons- a $159.00 coffee maker from Home Depot that is perfectly adequate for ground use has a $9-600.00 coffee-making equivalent suitable for use in your aircraft.

SELECTING WISELY
Many aircraft operators ask how they can get what they need- and also what they need to look for when selecting equipment for use in their aircraft cabin. After all- it should be easy now to get such a simple feature as an iPod on the aircraft- or to use your mobile to call anywhere in the world- or even to access your email and print documents while airborne- right? Not necessarily!

In today’s economic environment- many aircraft owners and operators are preparing to retain their current aircraft- and as a knock-on effect- many are seeking to take advantage of the numerous upgrades available for their aircraft. As we established in this section already- the key is in the research. If you wish to obtain an upgrade with minimal downtime- optimum utilization and avoid a nasty surprise when it comes to settling the bill at the end of the upgrade- you will need to make sure you have researched the field properly.

One particular danger area that many operators fall into covers the so-called ‘simple upgrade’. Just because you already have a satellite communication system does not mean that the newer system available is a simple upgrade or ‘card swap’ to bring your unit up to date.

Technology changes so rapidly- for example- that a laptop could be almost obsolete six months down the line- because so much has changed in performance- chip technology- memory- etc. An aircraft is no different - the Learjet 45 being a very different beast from the Learjet 35 from the 1980s even if the changes are less dramatic than the laptop example used.

Take the time to be specific. Lay out the plans for exactly what you want to change or upgrade. Begin by making a complete list of what is currently installed on the aircraft. Include as much detail as possible including make- model and MOD status.

All this information is available by visually inspecting the unit and writing the information from its data plate.

A log book review will offer invaluable information of when things were installed if not delivered with the aircraft when it was factory new. Only then can you begin to talk about systems you want installed. This information will also assist in determining upgradability in the long-run.

CONSIDER THE IMPLICATIONS
Without having this information available for the service center- they may not be in the best position to judge the downtime required to upgrade your system- along with ordering materials needed to ensure downtime is kept to a minimum. And that could result in some nasty surprises further down the line for you as your vital business tool is unavailable to you for an unnecessarily long period of time. Time is money!

Another cost-saving advantage to having your upgrade fully detailed for the service center: As one can imagine- wiring is a major factor in electronic installations. When the service center knows exactly what is installed it can potentially use existing wiring to keep the changes and routing to a minimum.

Communications is for most owners the most important issue- and time should be allocated to ensure you have a system that meets your requirements. Imagine the horror of receiving your newly upgraded aircraft back from the shop- setting off on your first business trip- thinking your cabin is equipped to enhance your productivity en route- and then finding it doesn’t do what you thought it could do… you can’t make that essential en-route business call because you are flying outside of the coverage area!

If the flights are exclusively domestic (US)- then a relatively inexpensive ground-based system should suffice - but don’t be short sighted- and see only cost as a factor. If you travel internationally- that more expensive satellite-based system will ensure needs are met. If data transfer is even more important than a voice plan- then consider utilizing an Inmarsat-based system.

There are three aspects of the communication system installation that need to be addressed in the selection process. The system consists of three main components: the unit itself; the handset and the antenna. Therefore- during the installation the interior will have to be removed in order to install the antenna on the top of the aircraft. The wiring then needs to be routed from the cockpit and antenna to the unit- and then onto the handset in the cabin.

To put it plainly- this process is no small feat! Plan to capitalize on this downtime! At this time displays- entertainment systems- iPod docking stations and more can also be installed or upgraded- taking advantage of the interior being removed from the aircraft. Why create the frustration of having multiple (costly!) down-times because you didn’t plan for all of your cabin needs thoroughly enough to address them in one hit?

One final ‘gotcha’: Did you consider the impact of your cabin upgrade on the overall weight of your aircraft? Perhaps you are considering a major cabin upgrade involving several new pieces of equipment. While newer equipment is getting lighter- remember that additions can all contribute to overall aircraft weight leading to potential compromises on a whole host of factors including payload and performance. As long as you are installing only what you need- your ‘need’ list should be shorter than your ‘want’ list- and weight shouldn’t be a big problem - but it is still vital that you factor this as part of your preliminary planning.

THE BUSINESS TOOL
In the near future- systems will become available to enable the use of current mobile phones while airborne. Airlines are also looking at offering this but over-hearing 100 different conversations during a commercial flight does little to appeal to those seeking privacy- or rest.

It cannot be labored enough in today’s hostile media environment: Private aircraft are first and foremost a business tool. Corporate aircraft provide a safe and much quicker method of travel than the airlines could ever offer.

To enhance the productivity of the passengers while en-route is paramount no matter what aircraft you operate. Hopefully the preceding article outlines the vitality of planning enhancements to that tool.

Now is the time to take advantage of down times- to have the aircraft upgraded and become more productive. Who knows: a thorough upgrade now may well add to the appeal to your aircraft when economic times pick up- and you are ready to trade in your aircraft. These days- like all others- shall come to pass. When times get better the aircraft that will be more appealing will be the aircraft that has been upgraded thoughtfully.

John Brodeur is an Aviation Consultant with experience in Completion Management- Interior Design- Maintenance- Sales and Acquisitions. along with being a Pilot and A&P for business aircraft. Mr. Brodeur can be contacted at Tel: +1 647-448-4748 (cell) or Email: john@avbro.com

CABIN COMMUNICATIONS
Today the options for cabin communications fall into three different systems: The Iridium and Inmarsat satellite systems and ground-based systems. In a nutshell the Iridium system (www.iridium.com) was designed for airborne communication- not for internet usage. It does offer data services but is limited to a transfer rate of up to 10 kbps. Inmarsat (www.inmarsat.com) provides both voice and data services with transfer rates of up to 432 kbps.

Ground-based communication options are also available but limited to the US. Future plans for expansion to Canada and Mexico are in the works. Many of the older aircraft started with a basic Flitephone or MagnaStar system limited to ground-based US coverage only. These aircraft can upgrade to Aircell (www.aircell.com)- ICG (www.icg.aero) or TrueNorth (www.truenorthavionics.com) for satellite communications without major costs.

At the top-end Rockwell Collins (www.rockwellcollins.com) offers the SAT- 6100/HST-2110 Inmarsat satellite communications system- and Honeywell (www.honeywell.com) the MCS-7100 Inmarsat satellite communications system. Other systems include ViaSat BBML along with Satcom Direct (www.satcomdirect.com)

CABIN ENTERTAINMENT
Today LCD displays from 6.5-32” or more are available for upgrade. Older displays are much heavier than the light-weight displays now available for modest costs. The cabin entertainment system usually comprises displays- VHS- DVD- Blu-ray- radio and TV systems. VHS and DVD systems are self contained units and can be readily upgraded. Rockwell Collins’ Airshow system and Honeywell’s JetMap have been around for a while but have now been expanded to include additional features.

Newer systems such as TV and iPod systems are new to the business aviation market. These are generally stand alone systems and installation will depend on some of the many options available. Rockwell Collins offers the Tailwind 500 Multiregional TV system along with Honeywell offering the AIS-2000 TV system. Both are basically global TV systems.


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