Practical Tips for Your Dream Cabin Electronics Upgrade

What should you do first if you’re looking to upgrade your business aircraft’s cabin electronics? Brian Wilson shares some best practices and offers tips for ensuring you get the best results from your upgrade…

Brian Wilson  |  27th March 2024
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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...

    Tips on how to upgrade your business jets cabin electronics

    For those who have bought a pre-owned home there will often be modifications and upgrades you wanted to perform in order for it to look and function as though it had been built and designed by you. With that said, you wouldn’t dream of remodeling your new dwelling with a sledgehammer without proper planning!

    The same is true when you’re planning and performing an upgrade to your pre-owned aircraft’s cabin. The cabin is where you and your fellow passengers spend time; it’s the office away from the office or a home away from home. It should resemble the characteristics that represent you or your company, making you more comfortable and productive.

    Achieving the required privacy, comfort and efficiency is naturally a delicate balancing act, especially when you start to factor the weight and space limitations of an aircraft.

    Spend Time with the Existing Cabin Electronics

    The best approach is to spend a few months flying aboard the aircraft in its existing configuration, with its current equipment, to see what you like and dislike about the features in your cabin.

    You may be surprised that much more of the current cabin’s electronics and systems work better for you than originally thought.

    Find out when your aircraft is due for its next extended maintenance inspection as that will be the ideal time to plan any changes and upgrades. Keep in mind that a cabin electronics upgrade requires around three months to properly plan, and the lead- time for equipment can be ‘flexible’. (I’ve known instances of equipment lead times shifting from a few days or weeks to months without warning.)

    If you’re going to get a cabin electronics upgrade right and on schedule, it can’t be rushed – this should be a measured process. So, as you get to grips with the experience provided by the aircraft’s existing electronics, sit in different seats and zones of the cabin asking some of the following questions:

    • Do you have a good viewing angle for the monitor(s)?
    • How does the audio sound?
    • Is there adequate lighting?
    • Are the chargers for Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) installed where they need to be?
    • Can you adjust the lights and cabin temperature with ease?
    • Is the Wi-Fi signal consistent at all locations?
    • Does the aircraft’s Cabin Management System (CMS) interface with your PEDs?

    Keep in mind that for larger jets with cabins divided by a pocket door, the Wi-Fi signal strength can be greatly impacted. And be sure to check the signal strength throughout the cabin and in the cockpit with the door closed, since Wi-Fi is vital to the crew too.

    While in your home or office you can move furniture around to suit your needs. That is not the case when it comes to aircraft. You are traveling, working and resting within a fixed configuration, so does the current cabin electronics set-up work for you, supporting work, rest and play from a single seat, for example?

    Once you have started to identify required electronics upgrades and develop a wish list, it’s time to analyze the existing CMS more closely, establishing if it’s capable of doing exactly what you need.

    Be aware that almost all Cabin Management Systems older than ten years will have relatively limited capabilities, require a software revision or both. Software revisions can be expensive.

    Steps Towards Making Your Cabin Electronics Wishlist a Reality

    Having formatted a wish list of desired cabin electronics upgrades, the next step is to meet with your preferred MRO center to establish what is achievable. The MRO shop should be willing to provide the guidance and consultation needed to formulate a plan and a budget.

    Assuming the budget meets your expectation and you schedule the work, you will need to schedule further meetings to solidify your plan of action, including one at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled aircraft input at the MRO shop when you will need to provide:

    • Your aircraft’s wiring diagrams,
    • CMS software level and cabin configuration, and
    • A written objective of the features you want.

    It cannot be overstated that it’s imperative you come to this meeting prepared. Do not hand it over for your crew to manage –the presence and input of you, the aircraft’s owner, is required.

    It’s very likely that not all of your expectations can be met because of equipment obsolescence, integration limitations and cost. You will need to identify the priorities on your list – the non-negotiable items. Keep the budget at the front of your mind as costs for cabin electronics upgrades can quickly escalate.

    The MRO shop should have an interior designer, avionics engineer, project manager and your salesman present.

    Make sure those who are present are the same people that reviewed the documentation you provided. For your part, you should be supported in the meeting by your crew and director of maintenance.

    Focus Discussion on your Top Five Cabin Electronic Priorities

    Start the meeting addressing the top five priorities on your list. The engineer should be prepared to discuss what’s needed to meet your objectives. The aircraft’s CMS and In-Flight Connectivity will be an integral part of the discussions. For example:

    • Can the existing or new CMS display content from your carry on PEDs?
    • Will the audio play on the speakers in the cabin?
    • Does the CMS moving map have the capability to display on your PED?

    Since you took time to fly on the aircraft and used the old cabin connectivity system, you will be keenly aware of any shortcomings. Regarding modifying the existing system or installing a new one:

    • How would the bandwidth and data speed improve with an upgrade?
    • Could you stream content (if applicable)?
    • Does the old/new connectivity solution offer coverage throughout your normal flight routes?
    • Does the existing system provide more than a link to the internet?

    These questions are important, because you might find that modifying or replacing the Wi-Fi system is more budget-friendly and provides more features than if you tried to change or integrate a new CMS.

    The CMS may have been designed years before the aircraft was certified, and there could be some limitations to how much you can alter a fixed and certified configuration. The connectivity system, although it is certified, can be changed due to its reliance on integration via a Wi-Fi signal and PEDs.

    The reality is that today’s connectivity solutions have begun to converge on the capabilities offered by today’s Cabin Management Systems, providing expanded features such as High-Definition 3D moving maps, stored content (Movies, TV shows) and digital magazines.

    Be alert to the possibility that the costs and lead-times associated with a new CMS integration could only gain you a few subtle feature enhancements. And be very careful when pairing over-the-counter Next Generation consumer products with legacy systems.

    ‘Quick Wins’ to Enhance Your Cabin Experience

    Consider some of the following electronics enhancements that will provide a satisfactory outcome for your aircraft’s cabin upgrade:

    • Upgrade the monitors to a larger size
    -    Smart monitors – either HD or 4K resolution
    • Add wireless charging devices
    • Install LED lighting upgrades if needed
    -    Upwash and Downwash assemblies
    -    Reading lamps
    -    Mood lighting with ambience to match how you feel
    • Moving Map
    -    Upgrade the existing unit -OR- replace with one embedded in the Connectivity LRU
    • Audio System
    -    Focus on the speaker placement to create a surround-sound cabin

    A Note to the Aircraft Owner

    The reason that you should stay engaged throughout this process is because you won’t get many opportunities to make your dream cabin become reality. Medium to major maintenance inspections only occur every few years.

    Couple that with the fact the average ownership time for an aircraft is less than a decade, and you can get the picture. Your cabin upgrade should be an exciting, engaging time; one that culminates in a personalized dream cabin that exudes your, or your company’s style and elegance.

    I’ve seen many cabin transitions in my career. There is nothing more satisfying for everyone involved than delivering a finished product that allows an aircraft owner’s dream to come true!

    Read more tips on Cabin Electronics for Private Planes at AvBuyer!

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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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