- 28 May 2021
- Gerrard Cowan
- Avionics - BizAv
Are you sure your cabin electronics system is doing what it should? If you have a period of maintenance downtime due for your business jet, Andre Fodor shares three tell-tale signs that it could be time to add a cabin electronics upgrade to the MRO work…
You would usually bet your bottom dollar the principal’s kids would be thrilled to fly in the corporate jet on vacation. Leaving the wintry, gloomy weather behind, sun and fun aboard a chartered yacht awaited at their Caribbean destination. Instead of smiling faces, though, our principal was met with the opposite…
The older jet was equipped with Swift BroadBand (SBB). Nearly twenty years ago, SBB was at the top of the technological-tree in Business Aviation, providing jet connectivity worldwide at very high costs, per megabyte.
Two decades later it still has some value, especially for the exchange of short text messages during an Atlantic crossing. But today, with multiple data-hungry, high-bandwidth devices simultaneously connected, SBB can’t handle the data stream, slowing drastically (if it works at all).
Now, SBB is virtually obsolete having been replaced in modern aircraft by Ka- and Ku-band satellite systems.
The principal’s kids and wife were frustrated with the older set-up. They are accustomed to, and dependent on, high-speed connectivity to stay in touch with their friends, access social media, and shop online. Without a system able to cater for those needs, they felt trapped inside a flying tube for the duration of the flight.
Adding to their frustration, our older entertainment system only provided limited distraction from their boredom, with one DVD player and low resolution screens.
Of course, for flight departments today there will be early tell-tale signs that the business jet’s cabin systems are becoming obsolete. In this case those signs were two unhappy kids, and a frustrated spouse.
With over eighteen years of my career spent in fractional ownership management, I’ve learned several valuable lessons. Experience has taught me that beyond unhappy children and spouses, there are other indicators that act as early warning signs that it’s time to upgrade your cabin avionics systems. Here are three of them:
1) Lack of Product Support
Technologies have life spans. There comes a time when the supply of electronic and mechanical components becomes depleted, and there is no longer the financial incentive for the original equipment manufacturer to continue making replacement parts.
The technical expertise relating to a specific platform, including how to repair and maintain it, will start to dwindle as manufacturers and MRO centers turn their focus to newer, more popular technologies.
The chances of finding yourself in a situation where a system is no longer repairable, with a high cost of replacement, could be a sobering reality.
It’s important to read the signs early. If support is starting to dwindle, and expertise is becoming more difficult to source, these signs should trigger a planning process for the eventual replacement of your current system, timed to coincide with the next major inspection or overhaul.
2) Loss of Revenue
It’s a well-known fact that charter and fractional ownership customers are becoming more sophisticated in their transportation needs. If your aircraft is available for charter when you are not using it, you may be aware that inadequate internet is a deal-breaker for many prospective customers.
If you have seen a reduction in charter revenue recently, this could be a sign that it’s time to assess the cabin’s connectivity and/or entertainment systems.
Before customers commit to a charter contract, they tend to ask if the aircraft is equipped with high-speed internet, streaming applications, high-definition screens and other technologies. They will potentially pay more for aircraft equipped with these operational enhancements.
Moreover, to help avoid the expensive streaming of movies, consider having an extensive onboard movie library (as offered by Gogo Business Aviation or Collins Aerospace) that can be accessed easily through the CMS or passenger’s PEDs.
These will provide a rich source of entertainment without the need to expensively stream via the aircraft's Wi-Fi.
3) Loss of Productivity
The entrepreneur and business professional uses the business jet to maximize their time. Travel time between destinations, even when it’s only for leisure, is well spent when a cabin is properly lit, equipped and connected.
Airplanes should essentially offer an extension of the amenities its passengers can enjoy in the office, at home, and even within their cars.
Transfer-ability of comforts into the cabin of your jet should not be a pleasant surprise, but more of an expectation. If a period of downtime for an inspection or overhaul is approaching, ask yourself – and your passengers – whether those expectations are being met.
If not, then you may have an early warning sign that it’s time to plan an upgrade into the downtime.
The Importance of Balance
As airplanes get older, there becomes a balance between the jet’s residual value and the cost of a possible upgrade to its cabin electronics. Moreover, although our primary focus is the cabin electronics, it would be short-sighted to discard the cockpit avionics systems and other airframe needs.
A wise way to measure the value of a cabin electronics upgrade would be to assess how long your principal plans to keep the airplane before selling it. If you are able to translate that into years (or, better still, estimated flight hours based on the average number of hours annually flown by the jet), you will have a good basis to estimate the cost of the upgrade, and how you will depreciate the cost.
Consider any ‘soft’ benefits that might help balance these costs. For example, the installation of a Ka- or Ku-band system might bring tangible benefits to the passengers, who may be able to conduct meetings, or trade stocks while flying. Try to place an hourly value on this, and use it to offset the installation costs.
Because of the high price to upgrade, and the downtime involved, consider what else needs doing during the timeframe. Is it time to refurbish the cabin now that the interior is being removed? Could the aircraft benefit from fresh paint?
When upgrading, the sky is the limit, but take plenty of time to research, discuss and understand what your choices are, and how they will integrate into the jet. After all, you’re bringing valuable lifestyle upgrades to the passengers, translating into more aircraft usage and longevity of operation. That’s good news for us all.
Just keep an eye out for the early signs, allowing yourself plenty of time to be proactive in the upgrade, rather than reactive when the complaints start pouring in that the antiquated cabin electronics are “on the blink” again.
Or, for the latest Cabin Electronics articles, answers to your FAQs, quick tips and more, visit the Cabin Electronics for Private Planes hub.