- 22 Jun 2020
- David Wyndham
- Jet Connectivity
MRO centers performing business aircraft cabin refurbishments are seeing clear trends in the types of functionality and electronics equipment their customers are requesting for retrofit. Three leading MRO providers discuss those trends with Chris Kjelgaard.
In conversations with AvBuyer, three leading North America-based bizjet MRO providers report that many of their customers are telling the providers much the same thing. The customers want exactly the same internet, video, audio and lighting capabilities in their aircraft as they have in their homes.
Not only that, but they want to be able to control those capabilities remotely, from controllers and, increasingly, from their personal electronic devices (PEDs). “More and more people want what’s in their house, for their airplane,” says Dennis Kruse, a Senior Avionics Sales Representative for Duncan Aviation.
The three MRO providers interviewed agree that, when onboard, their customers want to be able to stream video, audio and text content to their PEDs where possible.
Each person in the bizjet cabin wants to be able to individually consume the content he or she is most interested in (rather than everyone on board having to look at a wall-mounted screen and thus have no individual content choice).
Meanwhile, increasingly, because of the rapid pace of technological advancement in household consumer electronics - which has made voice-activated devices and controllers such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Voice Assistant commonplace - business jet owners and operators are hoping soon to be able to control their cabin electronics by voice too.
Indeed, in launching its Challenger 3500 Bombardier recently announced that the aircraft would feature an element of voice control for its cabin systems. Given that the Challenger 3500 launch may also have signaled the launch of the fifth generation of Lufthansa Technik’s Nice Touch cabin management system [the timing squares well with LHT’s previous comments to AvBuyer on when it would complete development of the new-generation system], it seems likely that LHT has designed the new iteration of Nice Touch with voice-activated control at its heart.
All these trends — involving increased and individually streamed consumption of content, new electronics control capabilities, individually enabled (rather than centralized) cabin-control functions, and more sophisticated monitoring of all cabin functions — will rely on there being enough wireless connectivity to the cabin to support each of the improved capabilities.
Apart from anything else, aircraft owners today want their video content to be at least viewable in high definition, if not in 4K definition, all of which takes bandwidth of true broadband scale.
So it will come as no major surprise to business jet owners and operators that the most-requested cabin electronics upgrade today by those refurbishing their aircraft is the installation, or upgrading, of wireless internet connectivity.
1. Broadband Cabin Connectivity
“Right now, almost all [business jets inducted for refurbishment] have obsolescence in connectivity and cabin entertainment,” notes Kruse. So when Duncan Aviation’s customers bring their aircraft in for cabin refurbishment, many ask the MRO provider either to install equipment that will provide broadband wireless connectivity for the first time, or to upgrade the aircraft’s existing cabin-connectivity installation to offer much greater bandwidth.
Both Duncan Aviation and Elliott Aviation say refurbishment customers who primarily fly their aircraft over the US continental mainland and through the major Canadian airspace pathways often choose Gogo Business Aviation’s AVANCE L3 or L5 4G air-to-ground (ATG) connectivity platforms.
Gogo still has a dominant share of this market, but with the introduction of 5G capability fast approaching, its own new 5G solution is likely to face some competition from SmartSky’s planned service.
According to Bill Forbes, director of avionics for Elliott Aviation, many bizjets the company inducts for refurbishment were originally fitted with cabin management systems that used a lot of cabin displays; among them wall or seat displays showing Collins Aerospace’s popular Airshow moving maps. Now, however, “most people just bring their own streaming devices,” he says.
For customers choosing Gogo’s AVANCE L3 air-to-ground 4G broadband installations, their preference for content streamed to PEDs means that they often choose to purchase Gogo’s hourly unlimited-rate data packages, Forbes says. However, he says, “not too many” L3 customers — who typically are installing the connectivity systems in smaller bizjets — buy the monthly or annual data and voice/text service plans that Gogo offers for the system, for cost reasons.
The same isn’t true for customers of Gogo’s AVANCE L5 systems, who typically install the system in Mid-Size Jet cabins, according to Forbes. Such customers “are into higher subscriptions, but not full streaming, because of cost,” he explains.
Gogo’s website quotes three official ‘manufacturer’s suggested retail price’ (MSRP) prices for AVANCE L3 installation, ranging from $39,995 to $67,995 depending on how much internet use the system is expected to handle, and how many onboard PEDs and other electronic devices [ranging from five to 25] it is required to support.
Gogo’s AVANCE L5 installation officially costs $133,000 at MSRP and can support up to 40 devices within the cabin. The company offers promotional pricing for both the L3 and L5 systems, which is likely to bring down the net prices of the installations — not counting the MRO shop’s labor and other costs.
Most customers who operate their aircraft beyond the boundaries of the US and Canadian mainland either will choose only a satellite-provided broadband system, or pair such a system (for use in European, international and oceanic airspace) with a terrestrial Gogo 4G system for use over most of North America.
Although Gogo also offers a Ku-band satellite-based broadband installation, Forbes reports that many of Elliott Aviation’s retrofit customers are likely to choose either an Inmarsat or an Iridium Ka-band installation, the latter integrating well with Garmin G5000 and G1000 integrated flightdecks.
Meanwhile, Kevin Kliethermes, Director of Sales for Flying Colours Corporation, typically performs Gogo AVANCE L5 retrofits for aircraft operating in North America, while for Europe-operated aircraft, the retrofits are of Ka-band and Ku-band systems. “Our Ka-band installations have all been Honeywell JetWave [systems],” he notes, though Flying Colours has also performed Viasat Ku-band installations.
“The biggest percentage [of retrofit installations by the company] have been Ka-band, and then Gogo systems, and sometimes both,” Kliethermes summarizes, estimating that as part of a cabin refurbishment it can cost “as little as $185,000 [overall] to get good, robust broadband” for smaller bizjets. However, the price can range “all the way up to $650,000 for the highest JetWave [installation] — and double that if redundant systems are installed”.
2. Cabin Management Systems
In addition to broadband installations, “we are seeing a lot of CMS (cabin management system) modernization,” Kliethermes notes. “There is a lot of interest in upgrading those,” with “some older ones” being obsolescent, or even obsolete in terms of finding replacement spare parts.”
In some older bizjets – for instance Gulfstream GIVs which might be approaching 30 years old, “the switches, panels and components can’t be supported because they’re not even being made any more,” says Kruse. “If they break, then you can’t turn the lights on and off, and you possibly can’t flush the toilet.”
When inducted for refurbishment, aircraft with obsolescent cabin management systems which rely on physical switches are, at the very least, candidates for replacement switching systems. One such is Alto Aviation’s line of replacement switch controls, designed specifically to interface seamlessly with older cabin management systems and also with newer ones.
However, many aircraft owners and operators choose to have the aircraft’s entire cabin management system replaced with one offering a more modern look and modern-day functionality (control, capabilities, flexibility, scalability and — not least — weight).
“A lot of new players” have entered the CMS field, according to Kruse, but some particular names cropped up repeatedly in AvBuyer’s survey of the three North America-based MRO providers.
Two of the most popular systems chosen for retrofit are Collins Aerospace’s Venue, and Honeywell’s Ovation Select systems, both of which offer streaming to PEDs, PED-based app control and (in Ovation’s case, according to Kliethermes) partial CMS replacement.
“Venue is a big [retrofit] upgrade system for us,” he says. Flying Colours has also performed a hybrid installation of a Venue CMS paired with Alto Aviation switch controls.
“Collins’ Venue is pretty popular — it has caught on considerably” as a retrofit choice, says Forbes. “Honeywell’s Ovation has picked up considerably too.”
Today, two parts of many CMS retrofits receiving very little recognition but being absolutely required by customers are “USB plug-in adapters, [which] seem to be really big, and the ability to charge devices”, Forbes says. These requirements feature in “probably 80% of the installations we do.”
One former staple of the CMS market, the Micronet system, is now obsolete and aircraft fitted with the system — which didn’t offer Collins’ Airshow moving-map displays — are key candidates for CMS replacement. But traditional Airhshow seat or wall displays are on the way out too, increasingly replaced nowadays by semi-customizable Airshow graphic screens streamed to each passenger’s PED, the passenger being able to choose from a range of different display styles on the PED screen.
Alto Aviation also markets its own CMS, which it designed specifically for retrofit and which has seen particularly fertile ground in retrofits of Challenger cabins. “Alto was very smart about it,” Kruse suggests. “They went into niches and they were first into the [retrofit] market. It has been a big help to them.”
Kruse highlights Texas-based Cabin Management Solutions and California-based DPI Labs as two of the more notable recent entrants into the CMS market, and also cites Washington state-based Innovative Advantage as an important player in the market.
Innovative Advantage “doesn’t have its own CMS, but does provide the [audio, video and data distribution] backbone to Gulfstreams, and to other companies,” he says.
Replacement CMSs don’t come cheap. Kruse estimates that an installation for a Mid-Size or Large bizjet can range from about $550,000 to $900,000 — and much more for very large business jets.
Kliethermes’ rough estimate of CMS retrofit cost is very much in line with that. “Typically, for a Challenger or a Global, plan on at least $500,000 to start with.” But the retrofit can cost less than that “if you’re not re-doing the cabinetry, and depending on what capabilities you’re looking for”, he says (for example, if the customer doesn’t want a “higher-level audio system” to be installed). Many do, however.
Collins Aerospace’s Venue
3. High Quality Audio
Having the highest-possible quality audio reproduction is a key requirement for some cabin-refurbishment customers, according to Kliethermes. “It’s very, very important for some clients,” — so important that some are more concerned about the fidelity and quality of their cabin audio systems than they are about the definition standards of the video content they watch.
High-quality cabin audio “is not part of every single refurbishment project, but it is a part of a lot of them,” he says.
In recent years, Alto Aviation has been seen as the industry benchmark for cabin-audio quality and the company’s speakers are installed in the cabins of many different bizjet types, in pairing with various CMS installations such as Venue. Alto’s cabin speakers are popular with bizjet owners — all the more so since the company introduced its range of Bluetooth-enabled wireless speakers, according to Forbes.
But Alto Aviation is likely to face increasingly stiff competition from Bongiovi Acoustic Labs, in the form of that company’s recently developed “Speaker-less Audio” system. This uses Bongiovi’s patented Digital Power Station (DPS) algorithms to send signals to transducers attached to the rear sides of cabin interior panels.
These signals cause the transducers to produce vibrations in the panels which create high-fidelity audio reproduction, automatically compensating for intrusive aircraft noise.
Biongiovi’s DPS-driven system weighs much less than a traditional cabin audio system which uses speakers. Bongiovi has certificated its new cabin audio system for various bizjet types — including several Citation models — and Duncan Aviation has completed several installations, including one in a Gulfstream G450.
Aircraft owners won’t find either the high-quality speaker systems produced by Alto Aviation or Bongiovi’s new Speaker-less Audio system cheap to install.
According to Kliethermes, customers can expect to pay “$100,000-plus for a typical, well-designed, robust audio system, and [costs of audio systems] go up from there,” depending on how large the aircraft is, and how many speakers or transducer-driven interior panels are required.
4. LED lighting
Replacing obsolescent fluorescent lighting or aging first-generation, slowly weakening LED lighting in business jet cabins is an important task in cabin refurbishment.
Replacing older LED lighting with new-technology LED lighting is a relatively simple task, because the older systems “are fairly easily swapped out” and the new systems are “pretty close” to them in terms of electrical connections, says Kruse.
In many if not most present-day bizjet cabin refurbishments, “the final touch is LED (light emitting diode) lighting,” says Meghan Welch, Director of Paint and Interior Sales for Elliott Aviation.
In addition to overhead lighting for general illumination of the cabin, many LED lighting retrofits include new lighting for galleys, reading lamps at each seat in the cabin, and also accent lighting of cup holders in the cabin seats and side panels, she says. “LED lighting is nice, because you can control it with your iPad or your phone app,” says Welch.
Additionally, various LED cabin lighting systems can provide combinations of blue, red and green lighting “to add ambience to flights,” and some systems — such as the Prizm LED lighting system manufactured by Elliott Aerospace’s sister company Elliott Technologies — offer a range of preset lighting effects to change the mood and feel of the overall cabin environment.
Increasingly, modern aircraft provide overhead LED lighting which changes automatically (or is controlled by flight attendants) to suit the time of day. This function is seen as being particularly useful in combating jetlag on long flights covering many time zones.
Prizm’s systems for bizjets can be manually controlled to offer the same effects, but at present does not have preset programs to provide that function. However, such LED lighting systems do offer the benefit of being highly customizable to the customer’s and passengers’ preferences, says Forbes.
For instance, modern bizjet LED lighting systems can provide different lighting effects in different parts of the cabin — for instance, to suit passengers who want to stay awake and read or talk, and also passengers who want to be undisturbed to rest, or view content on their PEDs, at the same time.
LED lighting systems are popular with retrofit customers because they can usually be fitted without having to replace the CMS, and installation of some systems can be performed quickly and easily, says Kruse.
While Prizm’s multicolored lighting systems are popular, Duncan Aviation also performs retrofits using LED lighting systems made by Aircraft Lighting International (ALI). ALI “is very good about quick retrofits”, Kruse notes, adding that DPI Labs also offers a full package of LED lighting for bizjet cabin retrofits.
Kliethermes says LED lighting systems for cabin retrofits can be “fairly inexpensive” to install. Full replacement of an older cabin lighting system can start “in the $40,000 range and it goes up from there, depending on how far you want to go” in installing accent lighting (for cup-holders, etc.) and offering different LED lighting effects in different zones of the cabin.
Customers can typically expect to pay from $40,000 to $100,000 to retrofit a new LED lighting system, he says.
Prizm LED Lighting System by Elliott Aviation
5. Plasma Ionization Cabin Air Filtration
The Covid-19 pandemic has made owners and operators of business aircraft keenly aware that traditional bizjet cabin air filtration systems may not provide enough protection against pathogens, such as coronavirus particles being transmitted throughout the cabin.
The viral particles of Covid-19 are many times smaller than the holes in the HEPA filters used in many cabin filtration systems, so those systems – and others which rely totally on frequent, rapid replacement of all the air in the cabin – are not completely effective in removing airborne pathogens.
This has created increased Business Aviation (and commercial aviation) interest in the plasma ionization cabin filtration system developed by Savannah-based Aviation Clean Air (ACA) in the past few years.
Gulfstream Aerospace became the first bizjet manufacturer to install ACA’s systems in its new aircraft as line fit, and also quickly certificated the system for retrofit to several of its bizjet types. Other business jet manufacturers have followed, and ACA’s plasma ionization system is now available for retrofit to the aircraft of manufacturers such as Bombardier and Dassault.
The system ionizes water molecules in the cabin air to produce hydrogen and oxygen ions. These ions then bond to the molecular surfaces of any pathogens in the air, weakening those molecules’ hydrogen bonds, preventing the pathogens from being able to reproduce and they quickly die.
The ions also bond to any tiny particles of other pollutants in the air, increasing their weight to a point where the particles fall out of the air to the floor and can be cleaned, or become large enough to be trapped by HEPA filters in the filtration system.
Both Flying Colours and Duncan Aviation already have considerable experience in performing retrofit installations of ACA’s plasma ionization cabin-air filtration system in business jets. Duncan Aviation developed several supplemental type certificates for ACA, and has completed installations in Bombardier and Dassault Falcon aircraft.
Flying Colours is a dealer for ACA’s system and Kliethermes estimates the company has performed “probably at least ten” retrofit installations.
Kliethermes reports that recently Flying Colours has actually experienced less retrofit-customer interest in the ACA system than it was receiving about a year ago, but isn’t sure why that should be. However, plasma ionization of cabin air “certainly remains a topic for conversation” for the company and its refurbishment customers, he says.
Aircraft of Bombardier Challenger or Global size need two ACA plasma-ionization units installed to make sure all the cabin air is properly filtered, according to Kliethermes. So it costs “$100,000 to $125,000 to have the aircraft set up,” he says.
“It is much easier than some installations. The equipment is light [weighing only 1.34lbs per individual system] and you can basically attach it to the [cabin air ducting] and then run power checks on it.”
More information from:
Duncan Aviation – www.duncanaviation.aero
Elliott Aviation – www.elliottaviation.com
Flying Colours Corp – www.flyingcolourscorp.com