Jet Connectivity: The Hub of your Cabin Upgrade

Whether your planned cabin electronics upgrade is likely to be major or on the more conservative side, Brian Wilson discusses why the cabin connectivity is a good place to base it around…

Brian Wilson  |  09th June 2021
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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...

    Business man using his phone and laptop in a private jet cabin

    Whether your planned cabin electronics upgrade is likely to be major or on the more conservative side, Brian Wilson discusses why the cabin connectivity is a good place to base it around…

    Today the hub of all cabin electronics upgrades is the jet's connectivity, but there are still many potential ancillary systems that should be considered at the same time. Taking advantage of aircraft downtime and interior removal are two great reasons to review your aircraft's cabin electronics.

    In order to review, concentrate on defining the hub of the system, the connectivity. This will require a focus on how to answer the following questions:

    • How will the upgrade look and feel to your passengers?
    • Will it fulfill the desired ‘passenger experience’?
    • Will the aircraft perform supplemental charter?
    • Does the desired connectivity system provide more than a path to the internet?

    Without having a defined set of features as they relate to your passengers’ expectations, you will almost certainly bare additional, unneeded costs and redundancy, or suffer a shortfall of capabilities.

    Connectivity: It’s More Than Internet

    Today, connectivity goes beyond just having email and the internet. Systems like the Gogo Avance L3/L5 and SCS provide a ‘Netflix in the air’ experience without absorbing any data usage and charges.

    Passengers can stream Movies and TV shows directly to their Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs). Other features include a moving map, digital magazines and weather details at the destination.

    Yet despite the sophisticated cabin electronics available, a surprising number of business aircraft flying today still have DVD players and other early generation media systems installed.

    Moreover, many existing switch panels are also becoming obsolete, and can no longer be repaired or reconfigured, leaving passengers frustrated or confused when the switch does not operate, or is incorrectly labeled.

    And the monitors aboard a large number of private jets only provide limited resolution, lacking any ‘smart’ applications. Moving maps are standard definition, and woe betide the passenger seeking a USB port to charge their PED.

    If the outdated cabin electronics described above gives a picture of those installed on your business jet, then, given the typical connectivity upgrade takes between two-to-four weeks you may want to plan addressing the issue ready to upgrade during the next maintenance inspection.

    Since a good part of the interior must be removed during heavy maintenance checks, this is the ideal time to perform cabin upgrades that enhance the passenger experience.

    The Conservative Approach to Upgrades

    Circling back to, and defining the ‘hub’ of our cabin is the connectivity. Here, we are broadly dealing with three areas, including:

    • Internet/Email
    • Media Source (Movies/TV/Magazines)
    • Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs)

    The more conservative approach to an upgrade may be driven by a limited budget or a shorter downtime. If this is the necessary approach for you, how can you connect the ‘spokes’ to your jet connectivity ‘hub’ to give you the best ‘bang’ for the buck?

    Cabin Management Systems: While older Cabin Management Systems (CMS) that face obsolescence are best being entirely replaced, this adds a substantial additional costs. For conservative upgrades, it’s worth considering simplifying the switch configuration and utilizing applications on a cabin-based PED (such as a smartphone or tablet).

    Bulky VIP switch panels mounted on the drink rails can be modified to add USB charging and smartphone docking stations.

    No doubt there is an old audio source that can be removed and replaced by a Bluetooth device to provide music through the speaker system. Advancements in technology have made speakers smaller and more powerful, creating an acoustic surround-sound element to the cabin.

    Cabin Monitors: High Definition (HD) monitors are a must in the minds of many passengers today. It should, however, be noted that seeing the true resolution difference on a monitor of 20-inches or less is minimal.

    Nevertheless, passengers still expect to have that same experience as they would enjoy on the ground. At the very least, it’s worth making sure the system is designed so that passengers can sync their PEDs with the monitors, enabling them to view their movies.

    Systems such as the Gogo Avance L5 with Gogo Vision (GGV) allows both streaming to the PEDs, and, by utilizing a splash page application, provides a path for users to watch the movies or TV shows on the monitors.

    Conservative Upgrader’s Tip: Make sure to ask the MRO providing the quote to itemize each option so you can pick and choose, helping you stay within your budget.

    The ‘All-In’ Cabin Electronics Upgrade

    Based on the fact that the average aircraft owner holds their aircraft for seven to eight years these days, there inevitably comes a time when they must decide to purchase a new one, or substantially invest in their existing aircraft.

    This usually comes during a major inspection, and could include a new paint livery, interior modifications, and avionics upgrades.

    Full CMS upgrades are common during this event, many being driven by obsolescence of the existing system, or a lack of features. New CMS upgrades can cost over $500K and requires significant planning and lead time.

    Since all cabin management systems are controlled by software and applications, it is critical that the configuration and feature set is well planned and considered. CMS companies refer to a “software lock”, indicating the point after which any change will require additional cost and lead time. Of course, you could always handle the additional costs by just paying more, but the lead time is firm and can be weeks or even months. 

    Integrating the CMS with the connectivity system should be the priority.

    Keep in mind that in most cases, this integration includes multiple vendors, so compatibility is crucial. The customer is advised to take the lead on this process at the beginning of planning, since it is they who will want the system delivered with their expectations fulfilled.

    • Create a block diagram representing all the components
    • List the features of each LRU
    • Display how each unit will be controlled (PED, application, or switch panel?)
    • Focus on communication between different vendor products
    • Meet with the MRO and their engineering team to review, discuss, and identify any technical challenges
    • List milestones for product, software and integration
    • Have the MRO assign personnel to be responsible to meet the deadlines.

    Other cabin considerations are the lighting, perhaps a new espresso maker, and the moving map (which have evolved into a specialized and customized maps).

    Advancements is lighting technology can transform your boring ‘white’ light cabin into any ambiance you fancy. Consider updating your up-wash and down-wash lighting during the cabin refurbishment.

    The application can be designed and set to match your mood. Bright light for work. Soft, subtle lighting for resting or watching a movie. Choose and preset from many color selections and intensities.

    In Summary

    Marketing has long associated the phrase ‘office in the sky’ with connectivity. I like to think of the cabin as the ‘living room in the sky’. Since aircraft continue to fly further without the need to stop and refuel, it is essential that you design the cabin to be as comfortable for your passengers as possible.

    Whether they want to work, relax and watch a movie, or take a nap, create an atmosphere that makes them feel like they are at home.

    Looking for more cabin electronics how-to information? Don't miss our cabin electronics special edition.

    Or, for the latest Cabin Electronics articles, answers to your FAQs, quick tips and more, visit the Cabin Electronics for Private Planes hub.

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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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