Business & GA

Entertainment in Bizjets

By James W. Ramsey | May 1, 2000
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Airborne entertainment systems that include live television, movies via digital video disc (DVD) players, and "surround" sound systems–once considered the domain of a Sultan’s private aircraft–now appear fairly routinely on higher-end corporate jets flying in the U.S. and abroad.

And the market for these and less-expensive entertainment packages for business aircraft is growing steadily. While nowhere near the size of the booming air transport in-flight entertainment (IFE) market (estimated at $1.7 billion), entertainment systems targeted at an estimated 10,000 corporate aircraft are keeping a handful of equipment suppliers and the completion centers who install this equipment busy.

Key suppliers such as Airshow, Baker Electronics, Audio International, and Ball Aerospace, along with avionics giants Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, are teamed with completion centers such as Garrett, Midcoast Aviation, and Duncan Aviation. Completion centers handle the installations either as part of an interior modification/upgrade or on brand new aircraft–under contract to business jet original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like Gulfstream, Cessna, Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), Raytheon, Bombardier, Airbus, and Dassault.

The cost of the entertainment packages ranges from $60,000 for a standard package tailored for light to medium-weight jets to $120,000 for the heavier business jets. If you want the latest hot item–live television–then you have to pay upwards of $360,000. It is an expense more likely to be incurred by owners of the larger Gulfstream IV and Vs and BBJs, along with MD-87s and A-340s (a Sultan does own this model). But live TV is growing rapidly in popularity.

"The guy who pays the bills sits in the back of the aircraft," observes a completion center expert, explaining why the entertainment business is taking off. Rapid advances in video and audio technology and the use of satellite communication for live TV enable this to occur. The term "IFE," used in the air transport industry, is not always applied in the business/private aviation field.

"We call it "cabin management," explains Marty Hamilton, marketing services manager for Airshow Inc., Tustin, Calif. Airshow is the reputed leader among equipment suppliers. "The package includes entertainment, information, and a third element–missing from the commercial airline equation–control over the cabin environment. That includes everything from changing cabin temperature to dimming lights, to opening cabin doors."

Airshow Leads

"Airshow seems a step ahead of everyone else," says one completion center executive. It introduced its popular in-flight map display in the early 1980s, and in 1996 brought the first air-to-ground link, providing passengers with news and stock reports–the Airshow Network. A year later, it provided the first live television broadcast aboard a corporate aircraft.

With acquisition of Pacific Systems of Kirkland, Wash., Airshow, a unit of Dynatech, became a "total cabin system provider," Hamilton says. The company offers a completely integrated cabin management system controlled by a touchscreen.

"We’re focusing on the integration of cabin information," says Airshow President Dennis Ferguson. "The solution to this and making it easy for the customer to use is the touchscreen. It allows the passenger to select live TV, Airshow Network, video or audio entertainment, and cabin controls without using a keyboard or a mouse." Airshow’s market has shifted from about 75% commercial airline business four years ago–some 120 airlines use Airshow products–to about 50/50 corporate and commercial now, he says.

A unique advantage of its TV system, Airshow boasts, is that it offers multiple services around the world. "So you can fly to Canada and pick up Canadian coverage, fly to Europe, and although there is no over-water service, you can pick up European TV," Hamilton explains.

Airshow negotiates contracts with the content providers–such as Hughes’ subsidiary DirecTV in the United States and TPS in France–and handles all billing for its customers. The company says it has sold 60 of its systems so far, with more than 20 already installed on Gulfstream IVs and Vs, Citation 10s, BBJs, Bombardier Challengers and Falcons. Airshow is the preferred supplier to Gulfstream, handling about 95% of its aircraft, Hamilton says.

The TV system includes the antenna and antenna interface unit (AIU), the brains of the system. (Five months ago, Airshow purchased exclusive rights for digital antennas from Datron and plans to bring the manufacturing in house.) A separate line replaceable unit (LRU) steers the antenna according to the aircraft’s attitude, feeding off the ARINC 429 bus. There is usually a fore and aft bulkhead-mounted TV monitor in larger business jets.

Baker Electronics

Baker Electronics, in Sarasota, Fla., provides "pretty much the full line of entertainment systems for business jets including the DVDs and VCRs, the audio/video distribution network and passenger control panels, the amplifiers and speakers, and even the audio compact discs and players," says Michael Morse, vice president sales and marketing. It also supplies flat panel displays.

Baker currently does not provide systems that download live television, but its cabin distribution systems interface with other TV networks–including Honeywell, Rockwell Collins or Airshow. Baker’s primary market is the completion centers. Baker’s system is standard equipment on the Challenger 604, with work being done at Bombardier’s completion center in Tucson, Ariz. The company also supplies systems for Bombardier’s Global Express.

Duncan Aviation recently named Baker its vendor of choice for all of its cabin management/IFE systems. So has Garrett’s Springfield, Ill., center, according to Morse. Corporate Wings’ Flight Options, a business aircraft fractional ownership firm in Cleveland, also selected Baker’s system.

Baker entered the entertainment systems business 30 years ago with its cockpit audio control systems–known as the Baker Box– "and worked our way from the nose back into the cabin," Morse says. Now its main product line is cabin management. Baker’s goal is to provide flexible, light, easy-to-use CMS/IFE systems for corporate aircraft ranging from light-weight to high-end.

"We are developing a new generation of completely digital, multiplexed IFE-CSM systems that will operate on a fiber-optic backbone. It will reduce wire count, box count, and overall weight and expand capabilities. The final product is due to be released at the end of the year," Morse says. This new digital network will expand capabilities into the next dimension of cabin services, i.e. the use of e-mail and the internet, he says.

Baker consideres live television, but in the past did not see a viable market potential. "The market has changed, but we are still questioning how many systems are going to be purchased and installed," Morse says.

Audio International

Audio International of North Little Rock, Ark., provides systems tailored for the spectrum of business aircraft, but seems more concentrated on the medium to lower-end jets. With annual sales of $30 million, the company claims to have the largest market share–about 45%. But since Airshow’s acquisition of Pacific Systems, "they are close to us [in marketshare] now," concedes Keith Jackson, AI marketing manager.

Like Airshow and Baker, AI provides all cabin control functions and has a touchscreen panel. It also offers a full line of video and audio entertainment systems, including DVDs, VCRs and CDs, speakers, amplifiers, and video/audio distribution. AI is introducing its E-Cabin system that will have a moving map display and offer audio and video on demand (VOD) plus a DBS television system, using the Honeywell antenna system.

But, like Baker, Audio International did not have a TV-capable system installed earlier this year. Delivery of the first new system to Raytheon was scheduled for April. Audio International also sells to OEMs and completion centers, and directly to the buyer. It has been working on a fiber-optic digital system to replace cable, as well. Corporate aircraft using AI systems include Learjet, Falcons (all models), Global Express, Horizon, Hawker and Beechjet.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., at Broomfield, Colo., provides a tail-mounted antenna system for live television, according to Steve Cutbirth, senior marketing manager. The company’s new jeTVision DBS satellite receiver system provides airborne reception of Ku-band TV and has been certified on a Gulfstream III. It includes the antenna system, controls, and a receiver/decoder unit that hands off information to the aircraft’s cabin management system for display. Ball also offers an externally-mounted landscape camera to provide panoramic views of the surrounding terrain.

Avionics Giants

Avionics giants Honeywell and Rockwell Collins, actively exploring the commercial airline market for live television system, are also offering products for high-end corporate jets. Honeywell’s antenna/receiver system is being installed on a number of business jets, including Gulfstream IIIs and on a Challenger 604.

Honeywell’s system taps into DBS to bring more than 40 channels of information into the cabin. Like other systems, it allows up to four channels for simultaneous viewing throughout the aircraft. Airborne equipment includes Honeywell’s MR-400 multichannel receiver-decoder unit and a tail-mounted 11.5-inch DBA-1150 antenna, supplied by CCAL Corp., Ottawa, Canada. Honeywell sells mainly to dealers or completion centers, and service contracts will deal with the end users.

Rockwell Collins’ live television system is standard option on the Gulfstream V–with nine systems already installed. Collins targets its systems for the heavier business jets because of the (30-pound/13.6-kg)) weight of the antenna, and is eyeing Bombardier’s new Continental. For the Gulfstream, Collins provides a mechanically-steered antenna, receiver and video distribution system, and buys programming from DirecTV.

Matsushita, the IFE industry leader in the air transport market, is eyeing the bizjet market but has not yet offered products for that segment. The company has a strategic alliance with Honeywell to offer DBS live TV.

Universal Avionics, Tucson, offers its new generation Univision cabin information system. The new design provides a browser-type interface access and control and includes map displays, and a modem providing direct (internet-type) access to news, sports, weather and stock information. The system can also accommodate a camera or VCR and is capable of displaying live news and information, Universal says.

Completion Centers

Several completion centers in the U.S. play a major role in corporate CMS/IFE by installing the systems and in sometimes customizing them to meet customer needs. Garrett Aviation (now a part of the GE family), headquartered in Phoenix, has major centers in Van Nuys. Calif., and Springfield, Ill.; an avionics installation and repair facility in Columbus, Ohio, and last November opened its BBJ completion center in Santa Barbara, Calif.

The Columbus facility performs about six cabin management installations per year, says manager Ed Gaines. The facility installs cabin entertainment systems including Baker, Audio International and Airshow systems.

"Our biggest chunk of business is aircraft being purchased and sold–new owners wanting updated avionics and cabin systems to meet their business needs. Most of that is repeat business from brokers we have known for years," he says.

At Garrett’s largest completion facility, the Jet Center in Van Nuys, Steven Lunde, director of completion sales, sees an increased interest in more sophisticated entertainment systems. The center not only retrofits older aircraft being modified or upgraded, but also handles new aircraft coming directly from the manufacturer, including the BBJ and Global Express.

A Shine to Surround Sound

"Most customers want ‘surround sound’ for DVD movies," Lunde says. He also sees "a big increase in live TV installations, mainly in the higher-end bizjets. We have done three DirecTV installations in the past four months." Garrett’s Jet Center first installed the Airshow system on a Gulfstream III, and has since installed them on two BBJs there. Three more BBJ installations are scheduled at Santa Barbara.

The Jet Center has installed, as well, Honeywell DirecTV systems on a Gulfstream III and a G-IV, with a third Honeywell system in process. The cabin entertainment systems usually are performed as part of an interior modification, but one "stand- alone" IFE installation took just three weeks, Lunde says.

"There’s a lot of work in the tail, putting a new radome and antenna system up there, and in the cabin, modifying the existing entertainment system to accept the additional video source for the TV system." The receivers that pick up the satellite signal are mounted in a single box, which is located wherever you can find room for it, Lunde explains.

Duncan Aviation, with aircraft support facilities in Lincoln, Neb., and Battle Creek, Mich., also claims a rise in entertainment system installation on corporate jets.

"DVD is coming on with a vengeance," says Duncan’s Steve Elofson, who handles new equipment installations. "The digital format has a much clearer picture and DVDs will play both audio and video." Until recently, Duncan built entertainment systems to meet customer needs, using several manufacturers. But recently it has standardized on two pre-engineered packages, choosing Baker Electronics as the equipment supplier.

The base package has a 10-inch (25.4-cm) monitor, video cassette player (VCP), 12-disc CD changer, and includes Baker’s amplifier and speaker system with an entertainment switching panel at each seat. A separate package for larger aircraft–Gulfstream and larger Falcons that usually have split cabins–includes two monitors, a VCP or DVD (add $5,000), CD changer, amplifier and touchscreen infrared remote.

Duncan offers Airshow’s live TV as an option. It installed a system on a Falcon 900 and has quoted other systems, but so far has had no takers, Elofson says. Interest is increasing, however. Last year, he had only five requests. This year, he had the same amount by mid-February.

Lots of VCRs

Midcoast Aviation, in St. Louis, Mo., estimates that about 15% to 20% of its installation work involves IFE systems. It does 25 to 30 IFE installations per year. Midcoast recently installed a Honeywell system on a Challenger 604 and also was installing Airshow units on Gulfstreams, Challengers, and Falcons.

"Recently, more and more suppliers of this equipment came out with higher-end technology, things like the Airshow Network. One very popular option requires a digital interface–a phone or satcom–to interface to a ground station," says Roger Renaud, director of major modifications. "DVDs are very popular. We installed a lot of VCRs. Our new LCD display includes a touchscreen cabin control system."

Midcoast earlier this year completed installation of an Airshow DirecTV on a Gulfstream IV, a Honeywell unit on a Challenger 604.

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