“When you get into the larger aircraft it becomes like a hotel, with dozens of staff supporting the plane based in a galley area down below. You have very comprehensive cooking facilities, and on larger aircraft we have looked at theatres, with spiral staircases and a Steinway grand piano. The limitations for what you can put inside a plane are pretty much the limits of physics, and even money cannot always overcome that. Even so, people are still always trying to push [the limits]. ”
Cabin Tech 2012
When it comes to outfitting a new airplane or refurbishing an old one, technology almost invariably tops the list of customer concerns. And no wonder: Innovation is happening at a faster clip than ever before, and buyers now face a dazzling array of choices. Interestingly, moreover, technology is no longer customer driven, according to Hawker Beechcraft vice president of business development Brian Howell. Instead, technology is driving the customers. Here’s a look at where it’s driving them right now.
On the connectivity front, ViaSat now offers its Yonder service, with speeds as high as 2 mbps up and 256 kbps down, using its leased Ku-band satellite array. ViaSat service is available everywhere but Russia and China, and the company expects to add those countries by the end of this year. The cost is $5,995 a month with a two-year contract, $6,495 a month with a one-year contract and $7,995 a month with no contract. Installation generally costs $400,000 to $500,000.
Switzerland-based OnAir, meanwhile, has announced its intent to expand its telephony, message and Internet service to business jets. With a GSM network chip and Wi-Fi cabin hotspot, its product allows passengers to use mobile devices to make and receive telephone calls, exchange text or multimedia messages or access the Internet. At this point, OnAir offers its package only as a retrofit item but a spokesman said the company is in discussions with “certain OEMs.” The price of the hardware starts at about $250,000 and varies with the size of the airplane.
Idair, a joint venture of Lufthansa Technik and Panasonic Avionics, has introduced its Eclipsair wireless “infotainment” system. It delivers news, video, audio, data and flight information wirelessly through a single-box access point and Web-based media server to the user’s mobile device.
Roku has unveiled the Roku Streaming Stick. The wireless device, about the size of a USB drive, will plug into MHL-enabled HDMI television ports. According to the Saratoga, Calif. company, the streaming stick features built-in Wi-Fi, processor, memory and software and allows interface with onboard devices from laptop computers to iPads to smartphones. It should be available in the second half of 2012.
Apps and More Apps
Two years ago, Gulfstream introduced an app designed to turn everyone’s iPod or iPhone into a device to control everything in the cabin, from window shades to entertainment. Today, such apps are commonplace.
Nextant Aerospace, meanwhile, now offers a free iPhone app guide to its 400XT airplane, giving prospective buyers immediate access to features, enhancements and performance.
If you’ve ever wondered about the noise level in the cabin of an aircraft you’re thinking about buying, you’ll be glad to know there’s an app for that, too. Just 10 years ago, an analyzer to measure cabin noise would have cost $60,000 and required special training to operate, according to Jeff Weisbeck, director of product development at ITT Enidine. Now the Analyzer by DSP Mobile sells for $9.99 in Apple’s App Store and anybody can use it.
Think that’s cool? A year ago, apps were available with an entertainment system that would allow you to wirelessly access any movie stored in the AVOD (audiovisual on demand) system and view it on an iPad or iPhone. Now, there are apps that will let you wirelessly view anything on that iPad or iPhone anywhere on the aircraft’s entertainment system. Rockwell Collins, meanwhile, recently unveiled CabinRemote, an app that lets you control a wide variety of functions and makes it possible for you to watch the company’s Airshow Moving Map on your iPad.
Blu-ray Is So Yesterday
Just a couple of years ago, the Blu-ray player, with its ability to process high-definition video, was the future of onboard entertainment. Now, it seems likely to become obsolete, overtaken by the AVOD server, which can store hundreds of videos and allow any passenger access from any seat.
Meanwhile, monitors continue to improve. Today’s choices are LCD (liquid crystal display) and LED (light-emitting diode), and to a lesser degree, gas plasma. LCD has a slight edge over LED, thanks to brighter whites and deeper blacks. LCD is also less expensive and the overall package is thinner, making it easier to hide in a bulkhead or credenza. But if big is your thing, note that Custom Control Concepts in Kent, Wash., now offers a 70-inch LED monitor.
Still to come in the business jet cabin is OLED (organic light-emitting diode) television. This past winter, LG introduced a 55-inch OLED consumer model and the advantages were immediately obvious. Not only are images sharper but the screen is only four millimeters thick and the package weighs just 22 pounds. Shipments of OLED monitors have begun and you can be sure that some entertainment-system supplier is already looking at how to certify them for flight.
How about a handset that “speaks” your language? TrueNorth Avionics has announced its Stylus, described as “business aviation’s first handset with a multilingual text option.” The Canadian company, based in Ottawa, claims it can be programmed to operate in any language, including those with dedicated character sets, such as Arabic and Chinese.
The Hi-Tech Lav
When it comes to toilet seats, up or down is often the subject of acrimonious conversation. EcoDomo has another choice–leather. The Rockville, Md. company is offering leather toilet seats it describes as not only luxurious and stylish but antimicrobial. They can be cleaned with a mild mixture of bleach and water, followed by a leather-wipe similar to those used to treat automobile leather. The cost? About $500.
Gulfstream offers a somewhat related innovation for the same end of the cabin–an aft lavatory exhaust system that is standard on the G450, the G550 and the new G650. The main component is a semi-circular vented aluminum tube mounted just under the toilet-bowl cover. It is automatically activated when the padded seat is raised. Odors are exhausted overboard via the drain mast. Overboard venting can also be activated by a switch in the lavatory.
Dassault has designed an installed a shower in the aft cabin section of a Falcon 7X. The stand-up (or sit-down) stall features a “rain sky” ceiling and an outside window that can be electrochemically dimmed for privacy. The shower was built at the request of a customer and is not yet being offered as a standard option.
Bombardier has made a shower optional equipment on its Global 5000 and Global 6000 for about three years, and Gulfstream will offer one as an option on its new G650, beginning next year.
The Latest in Galley Tech
As business and private aircraft fly farther and farther on global routes, the need for a better-equipped galley is becoming apparent, and manufacturers are doing something about it. Among the latest products to catch our eye:
• The galley in Gulfstream’s G650 includes a 40-pound refrigerator/freezer that the Savannah, Ga. company designed in its own laboratory. It incorporates an insulated and ducted enclosure with cooling unit. Electronic controls on the outside and dual direct-current fans are designed to be ultra quiet.
• Italian cabin-components supplier Iacobucci has introduced an espresso maker that eschews the usual boiler in favor of patented heat exchangers to ensure instant and continuous operation. What’s more, the unit accommodates all brands of espresso pods.
• Flying Colours, a completion and refurbishment center in Peterborough, Ontario, has created a proprietary smoke-extraction system to remove galley odors.