Corporate and private jet cabins continue to add style, features, and functionality designed to disabuse you of the notion that you’re hurtling through the sky at 600 miles an hour in a winged tube. The goal is to make you as comfortable on board as you would be in your own house.
Let’s start with your feet. Like the feeling you get at home when you step out of the shower onto a heated floor? Well, now you can get it in the lav, the galley, or just about anywhere in the aircraft that will accept a hard-surfaced floor. Austria’s F.List makes wood and stone lightweight cabin flooring with integrated heating.
Want to make that cramped cabin look a little bigger? Try the mirror trick. AviationGlass & Technology recently received approval for its ultra-thin glass mirror panels in a Falcon 900. If you prefer a big view that isn’t an illusion, you can have that now, too. Fokker Services and GKN Aerospace have developed SkyView panoramic windows that measure almost five feet wide and more than one and a half feet tall. The windows could be available as early as next year for new and legacy Boeing Business Jets.
If you demand even more of an unobstructed view and money is no big deal, try a SkyDeck from Windspeed Technologies. This is basically a glass bubble affixed to the top of the aircraft that you can sit in. Who needs virtual reality when you can have this? Put on a cape and a pair of tights and you’re Superman. Windspeed estimates SkyDeck’s price at $8 million to $25 million, depending on aircraft size.
For those with smaller budgets, a variety of electrically dimmable windows are coming to market, as are windows that also serve as data screens. Gentex’s electrically dimmable window uses an electrochromic gel sandwiched between two sheets of conductive glass and a thin film coating that eliminates IR and UV light that can damage interior fabrics. The system can be activated via Bluetooth wireless controls on personal electronic devices or through a cabin-management system.
Vision Systems’ dimmable windows, meanwhile, can be set to instantly respond to changing external light and can be controlled by a seat-side wired or wireless interface or through the cabin-management system. The company’s new Nuance V2 windows can dim to block 99.6 percent of light. Vision Systems has also developed the Acti-Vision cabin window, which employs a touchscreen and displays maps, information, menus, and food and drink orders. Cabin attendants can use the system’s control panel to send announcements and messages to a specific window. Passengers can adjust a window’s contrast and brightness to improve readability.
Other new products aim to improve the air in business jets, which can be bone dry, with humidity as low as 5 percent. CTT Systems’ Cair technology for long-range business jets brings the figure back up to a more comfortable 20 to 25 percent. The Cair humidification system incorporates safeguards to prevent the formation of bacteria from water leakage, standing water, or saturation and to minimize condensation with a zonal drying system with automatic switching.
Of course, onboard comfort also depends on your cabin seats. The ones in the new Gulfstream G500 and G600 large-cabin jets, which the airframer designed in collaboration with RCO Engineering, are lighter than most business jet seats and make greater use of composites, including in the load-bearing structures. The controls are relocated to the inboard armrests. Sculpted pockets in the interior arms allow for more hip room. Taking a page from the automotive trade, RCO has begun to use poured seat foam as opposed to the traditional layered approach to deliver a more sculpted, contoured, and comfortable result. Polyurethane is poured directly into the mold to create a finished seat pad in less than 10 minutes and then computerized machines cut the pads to multiple shapes of varying hardness.
Embraer, meanwhile, has teamed with United Technologies Aerospace Systems to develop seats for its refurbishment program for Phenom series aircraft that are lighter than the original ones, have larger cushions, and employ polished aluminum and high-contrast upholstery stitching. The hip look will make you think you’re strapping into an expensive race car, but the feel is much more comfortable.
Lufthansa Technik’s new VIP seat design has received European Technical Standard Order approval. The seat family features a core skeleton with a highly customizable structure and pedestal and can be fitted with a multitude of options, including footrests and headrests. The structure is scalable and can trim as much as 40 pounds from the weight of a finished seat, according to Lufthansa Technik. That’s because it employs a carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer pillar that attaches to the floor and thinner, ergonomically tailored foam. The ribbed backrests attach to a spine-like structure that helps absorb and diffuse passenger loads in an accident.
While you’re seated, you’ll want your wireless smartphone, tablet, or laptop to be powered up. Late last year, Pentastar Aviation introduced a wireless charging solution for business aircraft cabins from Cobalt Aerospace that can be integrated into the drink rail next to the passenger’s seat.
Of course, power won’t do you much good if you don’t also have connectivity, and companies are working hard to deliver faster speed, global coverage, more compact systems, and more content. The Inmarsat Ka-band, for example, got switched on last November and provides seamless global internet access at speeds up to 50 Mbps, depending on the antenna you install. That’s about 100 times faster than the SwiftBroadband service that has been the staple of bizjet connectivity for years. Bombardier makes the equipment available to its customers via the Wave (Wireless Access Virtually Everywhere) package using the Inmarsat JetConneX broadband service with Honeywell’s JetWave satcom hardware. Inmarsat predicts that up to 40 aircraft platforms will be approved for JetConneX by the end of the year. To distribute its service, Inmarsat partners with such companies as Honeywell, ARINCDirect, and Gogo Biz.
If you have a large aircraft like a BBJ or an ACJ, you can get even faster connectivity. Gogo Business Aviation’s dual-antenna 2Ku satellite communications system offers speeds up to 70 Mbps with the potential for 200 Mbps at some point.
Need less capacity and a less costly solution? Gogo recently received FAA approval for its 4G air-to-ground connectivity system, which is three times faster than its current service. The system will deliver speeds of up to 9.8 Mbps and allow streaming video and audio, email and attachments, web browsing, voice calling, and VPN support along with flight tracker, real-time weather, and Gogo Text & Talk, which allows you to make calls and text using your own smartphone and phone number. Gogo’s 4G system will be upgradeable to its LTE-based Next Gen system, which is slated to debut in 2018 and offer speeds up to 100 Mbps.
The demand for better connectivity is marching in lockstep with the appetite for more content. Rockwell Collins is bringing its Stage cloud-based content service to market, enabling operators to load up to two terabytes of information and entertainment onto an onboard server and letting up to 70 passengers stream, store, or access it through their individual devices via the cabin’s Wi-Fi system or a USB port. Flight departments can customize the information they want to preload. While the initial service works through a dedicated server, Rockwell Collins expects to tie it into its existing Venue cabin-management system by the end of this year.
Satcom Direct has a new carry-on “SmartBox” that allows access to Lufthansa Technik nicemedia premium content on all inflight entertainment/cabin-management systems. Nicemedia delivers up to 450 of the latest movies and television shows per year in English, German, and Spanish. Multiple programs can be viewed simultaneously on cabin monitors and personal devices. The compact, lightweight box connects via Ethernet to the onboard router.
So kick back in that big comfy seat next to the automatically dimming window with the messages in it. Warm your feet on the heated floor and breathe in the humidified air. Access the web superfast and watch whatever movie or TV show you want. You may not be in your living room, but the bizjet cabin sure is starting to feel like home, sweet home.