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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cabin Management Systems: Building the Bizjet of the Future

Cabin management systems a critical for creating a top passenger experience in bizjets. We talk to key providers of CMS to learn about their current offer and what their future plans will bring.

Charlotte Adams

Cabin Management Systems (CMS) create the passenger experience in bizjets. At a minimum, the CMS is the architecture that integrates cabin elements such as lighting, temperature, audio, video and Internet connectivity, and enables passengers to control each of these things with the touch of a finger.

In the last few years CMS have incorporated more flexible control. Passengers now can use their own smartphones and tablets, as well as dedicated electronics, to manage almost everything in the cabin. Stored movies likewise can be beamed to Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) wirelessly or watched on high-definition monitors at the bulkhead or seats. Multiple different movies can be viewed at the same time. 

“Everybody’s jumped on the wireless bandwagon,” says David Gray, president of Flight Display Systems. “It breeds a sense of familiarity.” Passengers using the company’s Smart Cabin system also can listen to XM radio on their phones if they’ve got an XM antenna for weather service.

In the future, we can expect real-time personalized control. A retinal scanner on the door could be set to admit you and only you and to automatically recognize your preferences, down to the chardonnay to be served from the galley, muses Justin Dye, Honeywell’s senior product manager for cabin management. He envisions “multimodality control,” where some commands, such as globally muting the cabin, are managed by voice and others by eye control, swipe or touchscreens. A sensor tracking your progress from the front to the rear of the cabin could move the video you’re watching from your seat screen to one you’re walking toward.

CMS developments are driven by consumer electronics. As soon as devices become popular on the ground, passengers will want them in the air. The living room is the model for the cabin. Expect wearable technology in the cabin before long, Honeywell predicts. Dye foresees flight attendants’ using smart watch controllers, for example, if they don’t have pockets for control devices. For the near term, however, he expects higher-resolution displays, greater Internet bandwidth and a wider range of PEDs compatible with CMS.

CMS can range from tens of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the size of the plane and level of equipage. The worldwide market is some $500 million, growing a few percent a year, according to Duc Huy Tran, director of marketing for cabin systems with Rockwell Collins. Among the suppliers to this booming market are Rockwell Collins, Honeywell, Lufthansa Technik (LHT), EMTEQ and Flight Display Systems.

Rockwell Collins has almost 400 installations of its Venue CMS flying today — from King Airs to a VVIP A340 — and a grand total of 2,000 CMS overall. Honeywell has a total of 1,700 aircraft with different versions of its CMS, of which about 50 use Ovation Select, the current offering. And LHT’s nice HD system has been announced as the standard CMS/IFE system on Bombardier’s Challenger 350 and the Learjet 85 series, as well as the Learjet 70/75. 

As for EMTEQ, it’s eConnect CMS, which is standard on the Hondajet, has racked up more than 40 installations, primarily through retrofits, says Greg Cornell, the company’s business unit director – business jet and VVIP/HOS (head of state) aftermarket. The system is also on a VIP 767. EMTEQ differs from other CMS suppliers in that it mainly provides the integration piece; as a lighting manufacturer, however, it often sells its CMS with its lighting technology. EMTEQ integrates with many system providers. eConnect will communicate with satcom, lights, DVD players, monitors, sound systems, window shades and the galley, Cornell says. It will also interface with legacy controllers on the aircraft and with the passengers’ personal devices.

Flight Display Systems, nearing 100 installs of its Smart Cabin CMS, also highlights its expertise in retrofits and interfacing with older cabin systems. Flight Display Systems deals with aircraft that are 20 to 30 years old “all the time,” Gray says. The company’s CMS is installed on very small to very large airplanes — including the VIP cabins of a 747.

Wi-Fi

Wireless is also ubiquitous in the cabin. Most aircraft currently use 802.11n, with higher-speed 802.11ac in the wings. The pacing item is the availability of wireless access points, Honeywell says. The up-to-1-Gbit/s 802.11ac hardware isn’t largely available yet.

EMTEQ currently uses the 802.11n standard with 3T3R (3 transmit and 3 receive) MIMO (multiple input multiple output). This allows a significant increase in throughput — from around 54 Mbps to nearly 450 Mbps, Cornell explains.

LHT is offering a new wireless access point with its nice HD CMS that will provide 802.11ac connectivity on business aircraft this year, says Dave Crossett, principal executive for the Lufthansa Technik’s Innovation Center. 

Internet Connectivity

The Internet is big in the bizjet market even though it is very expensive and bandwidth-challenged compared with what high-end consumers may have in their homes. Inmarsat’s forthcoming Ka-band offering, via its Global Xpress (GX) constellation, promises an improvement over existing Ku- and Ka-band services. 

Honeywell has obtained exclusive rights to develop Ka-band aircraft hardware for Global Xpress in the corporate sector. Inmarsat and Honeywell, as the master distributor, define the packaging of the high-speed Ka-band GX Aviation service, which is expected to become available in the first half of 2015. Ka-band connectivity will be a part of Honeywell’s Ovation Select CMS, Dye says, but the antenna size will limit the service to the larger jets.

The new Ka-band offering will bring down the cost of service, compared to what aircraft have today, says Tran, in the sense that it will be less expensive per megabit. The hardware and the antenna won’t be cheaper, he says, but the service will be relatively more cost-effective. Rockwell Collins’ ARINC Direct, a GX Aviation reseller, also will develop applications and services. Internet connectivity, however, is not itself a part of Venue.

Despite the downsides, Internet via satellite connection is very popular with customers as an entertainment/productivity source. About 75 percent of the eConnect installations, for example, have Internet connectivity.

Flight Display Systems, on the other hand, doesn’t offer Internet connectivity. “It’s a price situation,” Gray says. “We talk to people who own airplanes, and they don’t want to pay for someone surfing or streaming [on the Web].”

Internal Plumbing

A CMS may include a number of physical networks and data buses. Flight Data Systems uses the Controller Area Network (CAN) Bus to send commands to the devices. The company runs uncompressed video over high-throughput High-Definition Serial Digital Interface (HD-SDI) cable. 

The eConnect CMS uses an RS485 digital serial data bus to send commands to cabin systems. But EMTEQ, in partnership with Innovative Advantage, an in-flight entertainment (IFE) company, distributes uncompressed audio and video to speakers and monitors over a fiber optic system.

Honeywell’s Ovation Select uses an Ethernet backbone. The core components, such as the 24-port Ethernet switches, are linked via a “rapid spanning tree” protocol ring network, talking to each other over a 1000baseT (Gigabit Ethernet) connection. Peripheral components, such as the personal control units, connect to core components through 10/100BaseT (10-100-Mbit/s) links. Ovation Select is standard on Embraer’s Lineage, Legacy 650 and Legacy 450/500.

Lufthansa Technik’s nice HD also uses an Ethernet backbone. “We have designed our system around how the world distributes information and media,” Crossett says. The system now includes 1 Gb Ethernet to the seat.

Rockwell Collins’ Venue CMS uses a 67-Gbit/s fiber optic network to connect high-speed switches, or distributors to each other, with 3G-SDI to the displays. This infrastructure has “plenty of bandwidth margin to support today’s 4K [ultra high definition display] technology and beyond,” the company says. Venue is standard on the Dassault Falcon 7X, 900LX and 2000LX, although the OEM uses a different name for the CMS. 

Customization

One of Flight Display Systems’ specialties is control switches. The company, for example, makes a very small, customizable Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) switch that can control up to 99 functions.

Honeywell permits customized controls within the constraints of a “style guide.” One customer, for example, wanted the same individualized icons he had on his home theater, Dye says. 

The eConnect architecture is also open and highly customizable, according to Cornell. He cites a recent installation on a chartered Global Express aircraft, where the operator was able to individualize the user interface for each customer, based on the predefined preferences. Besides different logos, passengers would have their own temperature and lighting settings.

Control Software

Manufacturers enable PEDs as control devices via the Web language, HTML, or through an app that can be downloaded from the Apple or Google app stores. Flight Display Systems, for example, creates a Web site on the airplane, so that any Wi-Fi device on board can get access to the CMS, Gray says. That includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and even Kindle Fire.

The eConnect CMS is compatible with a variety of PEDs, such as iPad, Android and Windows devices. EMTEQ provides a Web server on the airplane, so a passenger just launches a browser to get going.

Users of LHT’s nice HD likewise launch whatever browser they prefer to get a cross-platform control interface. The interface is compatible with Apple, Android and Windows devices. 

Honeywell and Rockwell Collins prefer apps, which need to be downloaded before they can be used for cabin control. Apps give “better sandbox capability,” Dye says, making it easier to manage content like movies on PEDs and to control security, he adds. Finally, it’s easier to manage the passenger experience because the users aren’t employing a multitude of different browsers.

As the market for interior systems consolidates, LHT intends “to enhance the whole passenger experience,” Crossett asserts. Inairvation, a joint venture with List Components and Furniture, a high-end interiors company, aims at designing, developing and manufacturing a complete interior that has been envisioned from the beginning as an integrated system, Crossett explains. 

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