How to Enjoy Cabin Electronics Upgrade Success!

From including the right people in the planning, to considering the different functions of your aircraft cabin, there are ways to ensure your next cabin electronics upgrade meets, and exceeds, the expectations of your passengers. Brian Wilson shares tips…

Brian Wilson  |  24th February 2022
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    Brian Wilson
    Brian Wilson

    Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director...

    Busy private jet cabin with business men and woman working

    Those fortunate enough to have worked with an architect to design a custom home will understand the advantage of proper space and functionality planning. For example, you don’t place the master bedroom next to the kids’ playroom! Equally, there are some practical solutions that need to be factored into a cabin electronics upgrade in a private jet.

    Taking the same approach as the custom design of a home interior when you are planning your next major retrofit for your aircraft – and particularly the cabin electronics – can save a lot of second-guessing, and clashing of activities among your passengers. Business jets today act as an extension of the main office. But it’s important not to forget that comfort and relaxation are just as essential aboard the aircraft.

    When planning a major cabin electronic retrofit, it’s very important to break the cabin down into zones, or areas. While in most cases you won’t be able to close a door, or walk down the hallway to avoid noise or lighting, it is possible to design a layout to satisfy both business and pleasure needs simultaneously. 

    Where to Begin the Planning… 

    The best place to start, is by having both electronic and paper copies of the interior layout prepared. Unlike a home where you can buy new furniture, or move items around to fit your needs, certification costs will mostly prohibit moving seats, divans and other monuments within an aircraft cabin.

    In most cases, you will be working around an existing interior layout, and considering how to optimize the way the cabin’s electronics work within that arrangement. The next step is to focus on the systems that will facilitate the needs of your passengers. These include:

    • In-Flight Connectivity
    • In-Flight Entertainment (IFE)
    • Cabin Management System (CMS)
    • Lighting
    • Environmental

    In relation to these, be sure to define the profile and mission required of the aircraft, including: 

    • What are the specific passenger expectations (business and pleasure)?
    • Will the airplane fly mostly domestic trips, or internationally?
    • What is the average number of passengers flying on these trips?
    • What is the normal/average flight duration?
    • Will the aircraft be utilized for charter, too? 

    Seek input from multiple different people when planning a cabin electronics retrofit. The discussion should include the crew, maintenance and other flight department personnel, and the passengers. 

    If the aircraft is primarily used for business, it’s imperative to have the CEO, CFO and any other key personnel involved in the decision-making. Major cabin retrofits are expensive, meaning that meeting both the passengers’ expectations and staying within budget can be an arduous task. 

    Galley Electronic Considerations 

    The main galley is usually located just aft of the cockpit, and is the first zone you encounter when you walk up the airstairs. 

    A forward galley configuration allows the flight attendant to easily support both the crew and passengers. Aft galleys are cumbersome because the flight attendant must regularly pass through the cabin, which can disturb passengers who may be trying to work or rest. 

    Galleys can also be noisy due to expresso machines, cooking and meal preparation. For this reason, most galleys are isolated from the main cabin by a bulkhead and pocket door. 

    When it comes to upgrading the electronics in the cabin, focus on proper lighting in both the headliner and cabinets of the galley so the flight attendant can be as efficient and quiet as possible with their activities. 

    The main galley switch panel should also be configured to control all the cabin lighting and environmental systems.

    Forward Cabin Electronic Considerations

    Aft of the galley is the forward cabin, which is normally the work zone and the area in which the CEO or other VIP sits. Typically, the VIP seat is the first forward-facing seat on the right-hand side.

    At one time, the VIP control panel was a colossal array of switches, but today new touchscreen technology has replaced buttons and switches.

    It’s very important to ensure the CEO/VIP has the master control for both environmental, audio, and video within this zone, and today’s jet connectivity systems can be configured to make sure the CEO/VIP is given priority bandwidth allocation.

    Since this is the cabin zone for conducting business, focus your cabin electronics refit on creating a complete business suite, including:

    • USB and wireless charging stations
    • Power for laptops
    • HD monitor
    • Wireless printer
    • HDMI and Ethernet ports

    Ensure the Wi-Fi router is properly placed in the aircraft. Pocket doors and close-out panels can impact the strength of the signal, creating problems if this is not well planned.

    Aft Cabin Electronic Considerations

    Next, of course, is the aft cabin. Many times, there is a couch and divan in this zone which is used more for entertainment and relaxation.

    On larger jets there is usually a pocket door separating the forward and aft cabin. Regardless, proper planning must be undertaken to reduce interference between the two zones.

    The couch doubles as a belted seat configuration for three passengers, and is also a place to relax and spread your legs out. Here, it will be important to position the monitor and speakers so they transmit noise away from the forward cabin.

    If possible, have a monitor that pops out of the divan and can swivel fore and aft. And have a few high-end wireless headsets available in the divan, or install a Bluetooth device so passengers can listen to audio through their ear buds.

    The standard chargers and interface units listed in the forward cabin should be conveniently located in this zone too. Moreover, the two zones should have separate lighting and controllers.

    Since the aft cabin tends to be focused more on relaxation, consider installing lower intensity lighting, or even mood lights. The divan and end tables at the couch can incorporate small, focused reading lights.

    Rounding out the cabin will depend on the size of the aircraft: The Large Cabin/Ultra-Long-Range Jet and Businessliner class might have another room designed specifically for rest and relaxation.

    This could include either a small bed, another couch, or two large, facing chairs that reconfigure into a fully-flat bed. For the rest of the fleet, the very rear of the accessible cabin area is usually an aft galley, lavatory, closet, and storage area. 

    The larger aircraft can even support a stand-up shower. The focus in this zone should be proper lighting, temperature control, and comfort.

    Meeting Passenger Expectations

    Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) are part of our everyday lives. Many of your passengers will have a smartphone, a tablet, and a laptop. As far as they are concerned, the aircraft is no different than their homes and place of work: They will expect chargers, mounts, and video and audio interface capabilities.

    No doubt the passengers will want to interface the content they have stored on their devices with the In-Flight Entertainment and CMS systems. Trying to interface new off-the-shelf technologies with older on-board electronics can require a new or partial upgrade, however – or at least a software revision. Both require weeks, if not months, to design and execute.

    One great place to start when trying to meet your passengers’ expectations is to ask them! While it may sound like a no-brainer, in my career I’ve found myself in many meetings with a lot of smart people trying to determine what their passengers need and want.

    Though CEOs and VIPs are very busy people, they will be the first to let you know if something doesn’t meet their expectations. Major OEMs and MROs have the technology to create a virtual walk-through of the cabin and its features. 

    If one positive thing has arisen since the pandemic, it’s the explosion of video calls and meetings. Whether it’s a CEO or a wealthy individual, surely, they can find the time to ensure their needs will be met aboard the company airplane.

    A cabin electronics retrofit will cost a lot of money, and require substantial downtime for the aircraft. Planning should ultimately commence at least a year before the scheduled downtime, which is usually associated with a major maintenance inspection or overhaul.

    Budgets need to be prepared, and quotes should be solicited. MRO selection will take a minimum of 2-3 months, while lead times for equipment and software modifications can take 3-6 months.

    Cabin retrofits usually occur every 6-7 years, or when an aircraft changes hands. To avoid a stressful outcome when the time comes around for yours: i) invite everyone to the party; ii) plan your strategy thoroughly; iii) execute the plan. It’s the only way for your next cabin electronics upgrade to truly meet your passengers’ expectations.

    Do you have a specific aircraft maintenance, upgrade or repair need?

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    Brian Wilson

    Brian Wilson

    Editor, Jet Connectivity

    Brian has more than 40 years’ experience in the aviation field, and currently he is the Director of Key Accounts at Gogo Business Aviation

    Having worked 35 years in Business Aviation, Brian lists Jet Aviation West Palm Beach and Banyan Aviation amongst his previous employers where he has developed and planned STC certifications projects on cabin connectivity. He has been involved in more than 1,000 avionics installations, having previously headed up various avionics, engineering, and interior departments.



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