Since B&CA began covering Cabin Electronics some 25 years ago, we haven’t seen more promise and possibility in what can be done to keep passengers informed, connected, productive and entertained in flight than now. And there has never been greater demand for more bandwidth for cabin and crew connectivity. Fortunately, a host of ground- and space-based providers are upgrading their networks with superfast Ka- and super-duper-even-faster Ku-band-capable networks and hardware, making alliances with or even buying with network giants such as AT&T, LiveTV, SmartSky and ViaSat. The satcom hardware folks are falling over each other to make their systems network agnostic to meet the rapidly changing communication options from each vendor.

Let’s look at some trends in the world of advanced cabin electronics for business, VIP and commercial aviation operators:

In-seat USB power is now an expectation and no longer an exception.

Small lightweight equipment is available for all sizes of aircraft.

The industry has accepted Ka-band and there are very few questions about its capabilities anymore.

Aviation will soon experience 50 Mbps data rates — and perhaps even twice that before long. Remember when 2400 baud was smokin’?

These days a tablet seems to be standard equipment for most travel. New technologies such as wearable devices will likely change even that.

Inflight Entertainment and Communications (IFEC) makers are starting to develop products for kids.

Although not a trend per se, the FAA now requires that roof- and tail-top radomes be hardened for bird strikes. One company has a fix for that.

And here, in alphabetical order, are the highlights of the last 12 months in cabin electronics.

Armstrong Aerospace

This Itasca, Illinois-based aviation engineering firm is well established as an organization that designs, certifies, analyzes and provides kits for a variety of IFEC applications. The company is best known for developing off-seat laptop charging stations.

Recently, the FAA clarified the existing regulation on bird-strike protection, stating that existing radomes are now in bird-strike territory, making them subject to more stringent regulation. Previously, the FAA accepted a probability analysis for test validation and did not require a physical bird strike for domes on the top of aircraft. However, the FAA recently advised operators that actual bird-strike tests would be required to demonstrate that a flight could be successfully completed with structural damage sustained when a radome is struck by a 4-lb. bird at speeds of over 400 mph. Operators of rooftop radome-equipped aircraft now have to retrofit current radomes or remove them until a solution is found.

Thankfully, installing an Armstong Birdstriker to an aircraft radome can make the existing radome compliant with the new regulations. The company claims that a Birdstriker can also improve aerodynamic loads, local dynamic pressure and local Mach number on current radomes. What’s more, Birdstrikers can often be installed in one shift.

Astronics AeroSat

Astronics AeroSat, manufacturer of Ku-band airborne connectivity systems, has secured its first VVIP customer for its F-Series FliteStream satellite broadband antenna for the transport-category VIP and business aircraft market. The initial FliteStream installation will be performed by Associated Air Center, StandardAero’s Large Transport Category VIP completions center in Dallas, aboard a new Boeing B747-8 for an undisclosed customer. As part of the complete FliteStream solution, Astronics AeroSat will be providing the full installation design and STC data package.

Meanwhile, the company has developed the FliteStream T-Series. The FliteStream F-Series incorporates FliteStream’s patented “lens/horn” Ku-band antenna technology. The Flite–Stream T-Series antenna system is ideally suited for specific models of Cessna, Bombardier, Embraer and Gulfstream aircraft. Satcom Direct has been named direct seller for Astronics’ FliteStream products.

BAE Systems

Nashua, New Hampshire-based BAE Systems has rolled out a tablet-based IFE system powered by Samsung that includes in-seat power, LED lighting, crew functions via mobile devices, and turnkey support, installation and STC. Four USB outlets can deliver 2 amps, which should be sufficient for iPad applications. Streaming content is provided by GEE. Android PEDs can operate with the system by downloading an inflight app.

Betria Interactive

Irvine, California-based Betria Interactive has added to its leading edge FlightPath3D moving map product suite with the new Discovery & Kids Themed 3D Map service. This new service is a substantial evolution over last year’s FlightPath3D product suite with its engaging 3D Moving Map experience and innovative Destination City Guide & Concierge service.

The Themed Map service leverages the FlightPath3D extendable platform technology, allowing any airline to deploy and update new Themed Map content packs without new software releases. This new release includes a total of 24 information rich themed maps in five initial categories: For Kids, Sports, History & Geography, Technology and the 10 Best. Each theme is designed to inform and entertain passengers of all ages. Operators can commission custom Themed Maps developed to meet their unique needs and deliver a branded message to an engaged and interactive passenger audience.

Execjet

About as simple as it gets, ExecJet’s new BizJet Mobile air-to-ground communication service utilizes Bluetooth and Apple technologies to provide SMS text messages and S

MS emails — period. The company offers a bundled package including the necessary hardware and software, a personalized iPad and one free download of the app from Apple’s App Store for just $35,000 and $799 per month for unlimited text and emails. Downtime to install? Under a day for most aircraft.

Flight Display Systems

Alpharetta, Georgia-based Flight Display Systems has made several significant upgrades to JetJukebox, its wireless media streamer for aircraft, which connects to an aircraft wireless cabin router and streams content to any personal electronic device. JetJukebox additions include the ability to interface with the Smart Cabin CMS to control many cabin functions including cabin lights, video and audio. Video can now be streamed to a bulkhead monitor as well as personal electronic devices.

Other JetJukebox improvements include a fivefold increase in Moving Map resolution; the new resolution is 90 meters per pixel. Storage is upped to one terabyte from 240 gigabytes. The new solid-state drive can store over 400 movies, television programs, and corporate or home videos.

JetJukebox connects to an aircraft’s Wi-Fi router and streams content to as many as eight tablets, smartphones or computers. It supports iOS, Android or Windows operating systems. Content can include video, audio, photos or productivity files like PowerPoint. JetJukebox does not require an expensive Internet connection to stream.

FLYHT

At first glance Calgary-based FLYHT Aerospace Solutions’ products may seem to be more like cockpit avionics than a cabin electronics item. But when providing peace of mind to cabin occupants is paramount (and when isn’t it?), and there’s a “black box” that can instantly alert someone on the ground that an inflight problem has been encountered, well, then, it’s something that can described in a cabin electronics context.

FLYHT has patented and commercialized three products and associated services currently marketed to airlines, manufacturers and maintenance organizations — and presumably, business/VIP aircraft operators — around the world. Its premier technology, AFIRS UpTime, allows operators to monitor and manage aircraft operations anywhere, anytime, in real time. If an aircraft encounters an emergency, FLYHT’s triggered data streaming mode, FLYHTStream, automatically streams vital data, normally secured in the aircraft’s “black box,” to designated sites on the ground in real time over an Iridium-based satcom link. The Dragon is FLYHT’s latest product, a lightweight portable satellite communications device that blends existing FLYHT technology with that of an iPad. Available for about $10,000, the Dragon allows pilots and passengers to communicate using voice or data.

 

Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE)

Los Angeles-based content, connectivity and digital media provider Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) and satellite operator SES have an agreement whereby SES will provide global, Ku-band satellite bandwidth to GEE for use in its inflight connectivity system. As part of the long-term agreement, GEE and SES will work together to enable inflight connectivity for airlines around the world.

GEE will offer this coverage using SES’s worldwide satellite network, greatly expanding GEE’s capabilities and services. The agreement includes access to the existing SES network, as well as to upcoming high throughput satellite (HTS) spot beam-based systems, providing significant increases in bandwidth speeds. SES’s 50+ satellites will provide GEE with Ku-band capacity.

Meanwhile, GEE and defense and security provider BAE Systems have agreed to integrate GEE’s WISE inflight streaming solution with BAE’s IFE offering for commercial aircraft. WISE will provide the software backbone for the entertainment system available with IntelliCabin, a modular and scalable cabin management architecture developed by BAE Systems for applications ranging from in-seat power and dynamic LED cabin lighting to wireless, tablet-based inflight entertainment.

IntelliCabin’s state-of-the-art IFE system offers the convenience of Samsung tablets at every seat, as well as wireless support of passengers’ own devices, compatible with inflight connectivity.

Through its contract with BAE Systems, GEE will provide its technological and digital media expertise, enabling airlines to benefit from a complete content delivery chain, ranging from software solutions to local and international content selection, distribution, technical services, delivery and support.

Gogo Business Aviation

So Aircell became Aircell became Gogo Business Aviation in early September. Aircell-now-Gogo is widely credited with many of the IFEC industry’s most influential milestones, beginning with its groundbreaking airborne cellular concept that launched the company in 1991. The company offers all three of business aviation’s most popular network technologies — Gogo Biz, SwiftBroadband and Iridium. The change also included a move from Broomfield, Colorado, which Gogo had outgrown, to Chicago — and the purchase of a Boeing B737-500 as its flying test lab. The company now employs more than 800 people.

Gogo has added moving map capabilities to Gogo Vision, its new on-demand IFEC service, without additional fees.

Gogo Vision also offers a large library of the latest movies and TV episodes, which can be updated as often as the aircraft operator wishes, as well as news, flight progress information and destination weather. Gogo Vision service is delivered in the aircraft by Gogo’s UCS 5000 all-in-one smart router and media server. Passengers can access Gogo Vision on a wide variety of personal, Wi-Fi-enabled devices such as tablets and laptops.

Falcon operators who want to comply with emerging FANS (Future Air Navigation System) mandates can now get help from Dassault via Iridium-based communications systems developed by Gogo. In November, a Dassault Service Bulletin for the upgrade became available at any authorized Falcon service facility for Falcon 900, Falcon 2000 and Falcon 7X aircraft with EASy II flight decks.

Dassault’s new FANS solution incorporates Gogo’s Iridium-based Axxess system and Data Interface Unit (DIU). Both systems meet FAA DO-178B (Level D) certification requirements for FANS.

First introduced in 2005, Axxess systems have become popular in the business aviation market, currently flying on thousands of aircraft and offered as standard or optional equipment by most major business aircraft manufacturers. Paired with Gogo’s DIU, the FANS-compliant Axxess system is available to existing customers as a field retrofit through a special upgrade/exchange program. It is also available for new installations.

Honeywell

Since its acquisition of EMS Technologies Since its acquisition of EMS Technologies in 2011, Honeywell has added new technologies to its air-to-ground and satellite communications portfolio. That expansion, coupled with Honeywell’s existing satellite communications expertise, led to the company winning hardware and business aviation service contracts for Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite constellation, set to be fully operational in 2015.

In April, the company revealed it is expanding its air-to-ground connectivity solutions through a relationship with AT&T that includes plans to launch a new high-speed 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE)-based inflight Wi-Fi service for passengers, crews and operations personnel. With the new 4G LTE service, passengers should experience speeds that are a significant improvement from today’s air-to-ground speeds.

AT&T and Honeywell will build and deliver exclusive aircraft hardware needed to connect AT&T’s planned air-to-ground system in the U.S. With the new service, passengers will be able to enjoy 4G LTE’s fast connections to watch video, text with family and friends, and access quicker speeds to surf the Internet.

Similar to Inmarsat’s Global Xpress network, AT&T’s LTE is a wireless technology designed to support roaming Internet access via cell phones and handheld devices. This system is being developed so that it can integrate with Honeywell’s GX and L-Band satellite systems, allowing true regional and potentially global connectivity for passengers, crew and operations personnel.

Meanwhile, Honeywell recently introduced a support system for Honeywell satcom-equipped operators that purports to provide troubleshooting expertise even when an operator’s aircraft in in flight.

And, yes — there’s a test version of Honeywell’s Google Glass control feature for interested customers of aircraft equipped with Ovation Select.

ICG

As it marks its 20th anniversary this As it marks its 20th anniversary this month, Newport News, Virginia-based International Communications Group (ICG) is a recognized leader in the design, development and manufacture of next-generation aerospace communications systems and data routing solutions for general aviation and air transport industries. That’s surprising for a company that started out by developing telephone communications management systems for the cruise ship industry.

After, um . . . saturating the maritime market, it built relationships with aircraft and avionics OEMs. Now, ICG is experiencing growth in its business aircraft segment as it moves ahead with the introduction of its FANS and eRouter devices. It just received an STC for the eRouter on the Dassault Falcon 900 and is embarking upon STCs on the Bombardier Challenger series and Gulfstream’s GII, GIII and GIV models.

Now ViaSat and ICG are integrating ViaSat’s VMT-1500 system and Yonder Internet service with ICG’s new cabin router and NxtLink Series transceivers using the Iridium satellite network to provide business aircraft operators with a full menu of communications for the cabin and cockpit.

Installed on 400 private and government aircraft worldwide, Yonder uses the VMT-1500, the lightest, smallest footprint Ku-band terminal in the industry.

With this systems integration, ICG says operators can do anything, including streaming media, office applications, IFE and CMS interaction, regulatory flight routing and congestion control, telephony and aircraft health monitoring.

The ICG eRouter and NxtLink satcom products as well as the ViaSat VMT-1500 system are available and shipping today.

IFPL

Broken audio jacks? No problem. Isle of Wright -based IFPL, designer of inflight entertainment hardware, has recently patented its Self Testing Audio Jack Module.

The Self Testing Audio Jack offers operators a quick and easy way to check the condition of every passenger audio jack with just a glance. Maintenance staff send a high frequency (BITE) audio tone through the existing IFE system, then a small LED on the unit will light up to show that the Jack module is functioning. All that is required is a quick walk through the cabin to check the jacks at a glance. It’s as simple as, “if the LED is lit then the jack is both mechanically and electrically functional.”

Panasonic Avionics

Panasonic and Boeing Network and Space Systems (N&SS) are developing a broadband, electronically steered phased-array antenna for commercial transport aircraft.

The N&SS/Panasonic lightweight, 2.7-in.-high antenna, which will deliver Panasonic’s eXConnect broadband inflight Wi-Fi service, is expected to reduce fuel burn and emissions through a 65% reduction in operational weight and drag without compromising connection speed.

The new antenna will be available in 2016. In addition, Panasonic plans to offer the electronically steered antenna for a much broader range of narrowbody and widebody aircraft.

Rockwell Collins

Since Collins and ARINC came together in 2013, the synergies between the two companies have become increasingly evident. The marriage has strategically advanced each company’s expertise in different aspects of IFEC technology services and hardware for aviation. The end result, Information Management Services, serves the needs of not just aircraft cabins and cockpit avionics, but also airports, ground infrastructures, aerospace, security and rail.

Rockwell Collins’ Airshow 3-D moving map and Venue CabinRemote apps will soon be available for download in the Google Play Store. Business aircraft passengers who utilize Android tablets will experience a unique, interactive way to view the world around them and stay entertained, informed and comfortable during their journey. The new apps leverage Android technologies to enhance cabin experience.

Airshow 3-D moving map users will experience touch-enabled map interaction, including pinch, swipe and zoom; a topographical, high-resolution LandSat Satellite imagery map set; and interactive panoramic and pilot head-up display views. Venue CabinRemote will obtain two-way communication with an onboard wireless access point (WAP), plus seat-specific controls in addition to cabin controls.

Rockwell Collins’ new ARINCDirect suite of flight support services for business aviation integrates the best of the company’s former Ascend and ARINC Direct offerings for flight planning, regional and international trip support, cabin connectivity and flight operations management.

With ARINCDirect, Rockwell Collins will offer its more than 3,500 flight support services customers around the globe the latest in intuitive flight planning using state-of-the-art online and mobile platforms; regional and international trip support; comprehensive weather services; a full spectrum of cabin connectivity options; and flexible and integrated flight operations and scheduling services.

Satcom Direct

In 1997, Satcom Direct pioneered the Global One Number (GON) service, a technology that allowed callers on the ground to reach any handset on an aircraft in flight by dialing a single, 10-digit telephone number, no matter where the aircraft was located. Satcom Direct is now taking technology one step further with the launch of AeroV+.

Passengers on aircraft equipped with the Satcom Direct Router (SDR) and AeroV+ can use their smartphone and their number to text and talk anywhere in the world. Additional AeroV+ benefits include: availability through all phases of flight and use of the smartphone’s contact list for dialing and text messaging. Inflight messaging and calls are managed through the AeroV+ mobile app service, available over multiple satellite networks.

Meanwhile, the Satellite Beach, Florida-based company has expanded its services to provide proactive security threat monitoring. Customers can opt-in to the monitoring, which includes 24/7 notification of threats against or from the customer’s devices onboard the aircraft, vessel or mobile terminal.

Available in the first quarter of 2015, the upgraded SkyShield will provide five levels of data filtering, adding security to Internet connections.

SkyShield currently allows customers to control their inflight Internet usage by blocking unneeded network traffic that slows down connections and increases data costs. SkyShield allows customers to stop certain software processes and applications that use large amounts of data, such as program or software updates that run in the background, streaming audio and video websites, and social media feeds.

The service is managed through Satcom Direct’s ground infrastructure, which makes it available to all customers, regardless of the type of satcom system used.

Satcom1

As a result of rapid growth of Satcom1 and customer demand for high-speed satcom connections, the Denmark-based company decided it was time to become a hardware reseller for the first time in its 11-year history, in order to provide full broadband service to its clients.

The company signed an agreement with Honeywell in May 2014 to become a business aviation reseller of JetWave Ka Band satellite connectivity hardware, which supports Inmarsat’s Jet ConneX (JX) service set to go live in 2015.

Honeywell’s JetWave hardware will allow passengers to videoconference, send and receive large files, and access streaming content while inflight by enabling them to access Inmarsat’s JX service globally.

 

SmartSky

SmartSky Networks, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, is launching its airborne 4G LTE-based network, SmartSky 4G. SmartSky’s technology will provide more than 10 times the typical speed and capacity of networks currently in the market by using 60 MHz of spectrum for its air-to-ground data communications.

SmartSky 4G will serve both business aviation and the airlines beginning with an exclusive beta-customer trial launch in the continental U.S. in late 2015. The rollout of nationwide commercial service will follow in 2016. Because the system hardware design can work at multiple frequencies, SmartSky is positioned to expand internationally in the future and provide coverage in locations where different frequency bands might be required.

SmartSky is partnering with Textron, Duncan Aviation, DAC, Satcom Direct, ICG and Harris Corporation. SmartSky is led by an experienced group of cellular veterans, wireless engineers and aviation professionals. The company’s goal is to deliver airborne connectivity rivaling the robust experiences available in the office or at home.

Last year, the company filmed a live flight demonstration with multiple users on-board, engaged in videoconferences, streaming movies, sending and receiving large files, and other bandwidth-intensive activities all at the same time.

Thales

Thales’ acquisition of LiveTV from JetBlue in June positions the French company with a strong Ka-band connectivity add-on (LiveTV is onboard 700 aircraft worldwide), a strong retrofit business and entry into the low-cost market. The acquisition also increases Thales’ operational footprint in the U.S. and enhances its global IFEC presence. While Thales is largely (and LiveTV exclusively) focused on air carriers, there could be some effort to broaden its reach into the widebody VIP and business aircraft market.

TrueNorth

With the introduction of the Optelity product family, Ottawa-based TrueNorth Avionics has taken a page from the aircraft engine ownership model, which means owners and operators can be assured that future software and hardware upgrades, and customer care will be up-to-date for the life of the system — without additional unexpected costs.

The app-based Valet handheld device is the showpiece of the Optelity product line and will give the user the ability to make a call, control the cabin environment, and access email and the Internet. The system is designed to meet purchasers’ immediate requirements but will be easy to upgrade to meet future needs. The Optelity family offers a range of communications offerings from complete inflight office to networking only, and telephony only, versions, so the purchaser has a choice now and in the future.

The system offers all the cabin connectivity associated with a Wi-Fi platform and is designed to accommodate the latest passenger devices and future technology developments, so aircraft owners won’t be tearing apart their aircraft a year from now, says TrueNorth. The Optelity family is designed to work seamlessly with TrueNorth’s Stylus Handset family. It will also offer an easy upgrade path for aircraft operators who are already using, or planning to purchase and install, TrueNorth Simphone systems.

ViaSat

ViaSat has introduced its new dual-band Ku/Ka terminal that enables inflight network switching across commercial Ku- and Ka-band satellite networks. Using its dual-band terminal and a new radome, test flights were conducted in July and August on a commercial Boeing 757-200. ViaSat says the trial demonstrated the state of the art in broadband en route communications with the aircraft transitioning among multiple satellite beams from six antennas — three Ku- and Ka-band networks. 

The concept of the best available service borrows from the mobile cellular communications world. Seamless satellite network switching benefits customers in the same way, as higher performance satellite coverage areas are introduced to new regions. The airborne broadband terminal integrated a ViaSat Ku-/Ka-band antenna with ViaSat mobile and broadband modems, and a third-party modem.

Vision Systems

Better known as a “solar protection solutions” (i.e., dimmable windows) maker, Vision Systems recently joined the cabin management systems battle with its own IFE system, Visi VIP, a scalable and customizable system dedicated to business jets with various options to enhance passenger satisfaction and comfort. Different configurations are possible with one single box and multiple screens: motorized displays up to 65 in., wireless personal tablets and HDMI screens with full HD resolution. The connectivity option provides Internet access, email, videoconferencing and personal smartphone usage over VoIP with guaranteed voice quality (through a Satcom1 receiver). Other options include HD supports.

So, after 25 years of phenomenal development the cabin electronics marketplace seems to still to be headed for the stars.

The accompanying tables provide our latest exclusive snapshot (selfie?) of today’s cabin electronics resources and include quite a few updates, which we’ve highlighted to make them easier to find. 

Interactive The 2014 Cabin Electronics data tables are included in the digital version, or readers can download them at AviationWeek.com/2014cabinelectronics