Business Jet Cabin Electronics Overview

Ken Elliott dives below the surface of aircraft communications, surveillance, navigation, connectivity and cabin technologies, this month focusing on cabin electronics and connectivity.

Ken Elliott  |  18th September 2023
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Ken Elliott
Ken Elliott

Ken Elliott is a veteran with 52 years of aviation experience, focussed on avionics in General and Business...

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Cabin electronics cover a wide array of functions and systems

The historical perspective of cabin electronics is interesting in that it grew from humble beginnings. For those of us old enough to recollect, there was Passenger Address (PA), intercom, perhaps a simple cassette tape player, and maybe the ability to dial in a static-laden radio station or two.

When video features arrived, there was the Airshow 100/200, which came with moving maps and real-time flight information.

Between then and now and depending upon how the aircraft is to be operated, the quest has been to duplicate the electronic comforts of home entertainment, or the efficiency of the corporate office.

Over those intervening years we have seen everything from extreme customization by single aircraft owners, to conservative multi-use solutions, enabling entertainment and comfort to fleets of fractional and charter aircraft.

One way to consider cabin electronics is to assume that it includes anything that can be controlled from each seat position, galley, vestibule or the lavatory. In more recent times control has extended to the use of Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) that can be brought onboard and carried around the cabin.

For any cabin, there are several user capabilities to consider. These include audio, visual, connectivity (internal and external), cabin comfort, and interaction between aircraft zones (cockpit/main cabin/galley/lavatory/vestibule).

The individual cabin experience is somewhat dictated by seat allocation and on larger aircraft, cabin attendant position. The VIP seat will have a greater selection of cabin features than a club seat, which in turn will have the same or greater selection than a three-seat divan.

Main cabin seats will also have different selections to those available in the lavatory, galley or vestibule jump seat. Meanwhile, the cockpit interacts with the cabin by controlling cabin power, sharing external connectivity via dedicated channels, and addressing passengers over the PA or via intercom.

Business Aviation Cabin Electronics: A General Overview

Assuming a new (or recently upgraded) cabin, electronic equipage will look very different to systems found in earlier completions. With that in mind, and understanding how frequently cabin innovations occur, the following general description and technology review focuses on a typical large business jet cabin, as delivered or completed within the last several years.

Figure 1 (below) outlines the various aircraft zones, their arrangement and occupiers. Commencing with this information, a designer can specify and place cabin electronics, and other fixtures and features, throughout the cabin.

Meanwhile, Figure 2 (below) is an example of a typical large jet cabin layout that places potential cabin electronic options within each zone. Not depicted is any remote equipment associated with these options.

For all aircraft, cockpit functions take priority over entertainment and cabin comfort. To that end, engineers design cabin and cockpit electronics so they can operate independently of each other.

During any kind of emergency or load shed due to engine or generator failure, for example, vital aircraft functions will remain adequately served by disconnecting power to the cabin and preserving reduced energy capacity for primary flight systems.

Redundancy has been a constant problem for cabin systems where traditional manufacturers have either gone out of business or their parts are no longer available. 

For example, early providers of Cabin Management Systems (CMS) such as Audio International and Pacific Systems who supplied complete cabin electronics solutions are no longer extant, nor are their products supported.

Companies that continue to operate, such as Honeywell (Baker Electronics) and Collins Aerospace, also manufactured earlier CMS solutions that are no longer supported. In these instances, however, either complete or scalable replacements are available from the same providers.

Scalability in the replacement or upgrade of a CMS is perfect for many operators of legacy cabin systems. For any aircraft it is painful to start all over again with new equipment, wiring and cabin fixtures. Even if the interior is to be reworked, accessing below the floor and running wiring from one side to the other can be labor intensive.

Manufacturers of cabin systems, such as ALTO, have designed their solutions specifically for legacy upgrades, and have approached the problem by retaining existing wiring and some remote equipment while ensuring visible cabin fixtures can be replaced with minimal disruption to the interior finish.

Post cabin retrofits, passengers will experience new switch panels, features, and improved cabin displays, but significant adaptive engineering has also been applied to minimize costly physical and electrical changes. The results of these preparations are not always in plain sight.

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