Cabin Management Technology Today

Today’s high technology business jet aircraft include cabins that integrate Blu-ray players that provide high definition video, and surround sound audio, full color spectrum mood lighting, and complete cabin control right at your fingertips. These business jet passengers literally have their Home Theater or Office functionality from take-off to touchdown.

CMS & IFE defined:

Cabin management systems (CMS) generally cover utility control of various cabin environmental controls and functions such as temperature, lighting, galley services, waste water, and window shades plus In-flight Entertainment (IFE) which includes audio, video, carry on personal electronic devices (PEDs) interfaces, access to media content storage (audio & video files), satellite TV, and moving map equipment as well as access to long-range satellite communications and internet connectivity.

Both CMS & IFE systems have dedicated or fully integrated controllers which include devices such as iOS and Android based tablets and smart phones, as well as at seat touch-screen controllers with screen sizes from two -to- ten inches in size.

Several large CMS / IFE suppliers like Honeywell design and sell fully integrated systems addressing the complete cabin in-flight experience. CMS / IFE systems are generally designed using one or perhaps all three of the following technologies – Ethernet, Fiber Optic, and Wireless in combination with equipment that integrates all IFE cabin functions.

What do I need to think about when selecting a cabin system? – the good, the bad, and the ugly:

• First, are you buying a new aircraft, upgrading your existing airplane, or buying a pre-owned platform with an existing CMS / IFE system that you will retain or perhaps replace with newer, State of The Art technology?

• If you are buying a new plane, your choices are limited to the suppliers the OEM has already qualified on their aircraft. You may have some feature choices, but customization of configurations and graphical user interface (GUI) will be limited. Not all OEM systems are created equally. Some choose to perform their own integration and overall system design using 3rd party suppliers.

• This is a potential landmine of challenges particularly when it’s time to upgrade or address obsolescence issues. The churn in the ever evolving consumer electronics technology is substantial and will be expensive when adapted to airworthy standards, and the fact that aircraft cabin systems do not drive commercial electronic component design and manufacturing from a myriad of suppliers who are primarily focused on consumer electronics
If you’re upgrading your existing Cabin / IFE System to new technology, there are several considerations:

• Is your priority productivity, inflight enjoyment & convenience, or “I want the best technology on the market?”

• Define a specification of what your desires are, understand what you need to meet your operational requirements. Most CMS / IFE systems allow a wide berth with respect to customization of equipment and look and feel (GUI)

• Keep digital rights management in mind. Buying a system that is fully compliant with Movie Studio requirements and the law is important. If you don’t you could find your content, no longer works in your aircraft leaving you without a functioning system. It’s just a matter of software.

• Obtain a broad number of proposals and quotes to review

• If you’re refreshing your interior, this is the ideal time to replace old and obsolete equipment

• Consider a partial refresh if the existing system meets most of your current needs

• Plan for frequent upgrades in order to keep up with consumer electronic changes. Just because your smart phone works in the media dock today, does not mean it will work tomorrow. Budget for these changes, and choose a CMS supplier that is continually investing in their product.
These factors will start the equipment selection process:

• If you’re buying a used aircraft with an existing CMS, it is critical to evaluate the overall condition and suitability of the installed system to meet your needs.

• Problems with in service equipment can be significant, and expensive if appropriate due diligence is not performed before closing the deal. CMS/IFE equipment can be a huge source of owner dissatisfaction – to the point the aircraft is disposed of (some tales from the cockpit here). Make sure your CMS/IFE provider has a robust system and worldwide, AOG, support.

Whatever you decide on, insist on a demonstration, preferably on an aircraft, of an actual installed system. There is no better way to evaluate the features, and overall benefits and enjoyment you’ll derive from your investment.

As with anything else, set your budget and evaluate exactly how much bang you can get for your buck. Prioritize your “gotta haves” and your “wanna haves” and see what your budget will support. Another key consideration is down-time. Can you add a CMS/IFE refurbishment in coordination with other scheduled maintenance? Or would you consider bringing your plane down for the sole purpose of a CMS/IFE installation? If you only have limited time available to upgrade your existing system, consider a provider that can perform a phased installation, thereby getting you back in the air as soon as possible by enhancing your system one or two steps at a time.

Hire a 3rd party professional to help with specification preparation. Cabin system costs range from $100K to over $1M, excluding installation or interior upgrade costs. Bias exists at the completion centers and MROs due to relationships, and equipment supplier incentives. Make sure you have a full understanding of what you’re getting into before signing up for the purchase. It’s all negotiable. Another reason to hire a professional.

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