App-based CMS: What's Available for Retrofit

The app-based migration of cabin management system functionality has revolutionized cabin comfort and convenience. But how far should you take the possibilities in your next cabin upgrade? Gerrard Cowan asks the experts.

Gerrard Cowan  |  07th November 2022
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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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    ALTO Cadence CMS App for Private Jet Cabins

    App-controlled Cabin Management Systems (CMS) are now a key feature of business aircraft cabin electronics. Industry experts highlight several areas for operators to consider before installing or upgrading their systems which involve a holistic approach to passenger comfort and maintenance demands.

    Such technology is now well-established. The ability to control an aircraft’s CMS environmental and entertainment sources via an application through Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) has been an essential element of cabin control for a decade, notes Stephanie Cooper, Manager, Product Management Marketing for Avionics at Collins Aerospace.

    In fact, users today expect to control their CMS via a PED. The company’s own survey work has shown that the ability to connect to a passenger’s PED is the most desired feature of a modern CMS, Cooper highlights.

    Collins provides this through apps such as Venue CabinCommand, which can be downloaded onto a PED. “From OEMs to aftermarket modifications and aftermarket upgrades, Collins delivers few systems without app control,” Cooper says, adding that the demand for app control often intersects with more traditional CMS approaches.

    “CMS software needs to be delivered with the latest Venue CabinCommand application control, and users access their wireless network onboard via the application, which connects with the aircraft’s unique configuration.”

    Pocket Supercomputer

    Steve Scarlata, Vice President of Engineering, Research and Development at ALTO Aviation, producer of the Cadence CMS and related systems (including the ALTO cabin control app) notes that operators today “have a supercomputer in their pocket or carry bag. We are constantly using them for every aspect of our lives, including using PEDs to control the CMS.

    “Ease, speed, and intuitive functionality are the most important aspects of a cabin control app,” Scarlata notes. 

    “Complex and confusing user interfaces can lead to frustration. It’s important for us to know our customers, their preferences, and their needs to make the user experience simple and rewarding. It’s all about enhancing the passenger experience and increasing the value of each aircraft.”

    Most app-based solutions will require initial loading and configuration of the app on the user’s device, meaning the operators should be knowledgeable of the system, and able to help passengers easily load and run the app on their personal devices. 

    As such, “Having some devices that stay with the aircraft for passenger use is also a good idea,” Scarlata advises. “Having some tablets mounted on articulating arms, or several phone devices charged and ready to go would be a good idea to support all passengers’ needs.”

    ALTO provides multi-platform support for their app, whose configuration architecture allows for customization across the layout, graphic presentation, and images as required.

    “The configuration is stored on the aircraft, so anyone who connects their device running the ALTO app to the aircraft will automatically get the detailed interface for that aircraft,” he explains. “The app is designed to control many third-party aircraft systems in addition to the ALTO-supplied components.”

    One of the main advantages of app control is that PEDs are now so readily available and inexpensive, Scarlata highlights.

    A well-designed app will run on any new devices and can take advantage of new technologies without the need for modifying the aircraft. In fact, a CMS upgrade to support a touchscreen and wireless app system “is no more complex to install than a system without app control.”

    App-Based CMS: How Much is Too Much?

    A good app-based CMS should support the passengers’ needs with simple and easy-to-operate, intuitive controls, says Scarlata. “Select your seat, select what you want to control (lighting, climate, shades, audio, video), and the passenger should get what they need with minimal menus and button presses.

    “The galley panel for the crew should have the ability to support all passenger needs for any seat or zone and provide quick access to all aircraft systems, including pre-sets or shortcuts for common needs.”

    However, although app control is popular and desirable, Scarlata notes there remains a strong preference for retaining the important core controls on a clean, simple, ever-present control panel at the passenger locations.

    For refurbished aircraft, replacing older, obsolete control panels with new and improved alternatives is desirable, while keeping the mounting locations, etc., the same. This can substantially lower upgrade costs and is usually the customers’ preferred option (rather than pure touchscreen control).

    “Keeping simple tactile switches for the key functions and an app for more complex controls offers a ‘best of both worlds’ solution. Even some OEM aircraft models that had moved to touchscreen-only installations have recently returned to incorporating discrete controls following customer feedback.”

    Rosen Aviation, an in-flight entertainment and cabin display specialist, builds in firmware that supports various apps in initial development as well as in the updates that follow as the product evolves. It also works with partners to develop apps, according to Lee Clark, the company’s Senior Vice President of Strategy.

    The best systems aim to “provide complete control right at the passenger’s fingertips wherever they are,” Clark says. This may be a PED, or it may be the furniture or appliance they are using – the key is to deliver the same level of intuitive and customizable control across the spectrum of passenger engagement.

    “Using the app to control lighting is great, until it comes time to simply turn lights on and off. Having to navigate an app for simple functions is less intuitive, therefore a worse experience,” Clark argues.

    Tips When Retrofitting App-based CMS Functionality

    How should operators approach the installation of the necessary equipment in their aircraft? Much of the equipment in older cabins does not lend itself to ‘simply adding app control’, says Scarlata. “Most of this older equipment is already obsolete anyway, so it’s better to pursue an upgrade path with minimal installation challenges and a reasonable budget, without compromising performance.”

    In Collins’ experience, operators “find it more palatable and efficient to do upgrades during a maintenance event, but this is something that can be coordinated with a dealer during the quoting process”, Cooper advises.

    There are some solutions on the market to enable operators to access the Collins Aerospace Venue Cabin Remote application without needing a full CMS upgrade to Venue, she adds.

    MRO specialists agree that it is useful to coordinate maintenance efforts. Adrian Chene, Avionics Sales Representative at Duncan Aviation, said that when operators are putting their aircraft through a C-Check (or similar maintenance event), they should use this time for any necessary upgrades or maintenance required for their CMS.

    “If you're looking at a failed switch panel, and you have an opportunity to send it out when the aircraft is down for an inspection, that's definitely the time to do it.”

    Cabin Management Solutions, a Texas-based provider of cabin control and entertainment systems, produces the CMS Evolve cabin management technology and is currently working to develop an app for one of its clients, with the goal of offering complete control of the cabin while ensuring each function is only “a couple of button pushes away,” Dave Feuerhak, Vice President of Sales shares.

    Apps have grown in popularity mainly because OEMs are providing more solutions, he says, advising that although it is possible to retrofit an older cabin, it is important to have a modular system that can tie into the wiring quickly, enabling control via an app.

    “Essentially you are taking an analog aircraft and making it digital – the CMS Evolve system is designed with that purpose in mind.”

    And finally, software resources and support should be thoroughly considered when choosing, or upgrading app-controlled CMS, Clark suggests. While a “higher performance” system might seem better on paper, if another system has a better support system and network, it could be a better fit longer-term.

    Equally, system architects and integrators must consider how the apps will be updated as operating systems evolve. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Clark warns. “App-control is great, but you’re creating a single point of function and failure, as well as a single point of access when you put every function in a personal device... it’s important to view cabin control holistically.”

    More information from:
    ALTO Aviation:
    Cabin Management Solutions:
    Collins Aerospace:
    Duncan Aviation:
    Rosen Aviation:

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