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The Latest In Cabin Tech

Upgraded connectivity equipment, heating and lighting enhancements, more sophisticated moving maps, and expanded entertainment options are all showing up in business jet cabins. Here’s a look at some of the most auspicious products and technologies that have recently become available or are likely to be introduced soon.

low-earth-orbit satellites
Many companies are launching low-earth-orbit satellites, which offer improved airborne connectivity.

Satellites That Improve Connectivity
Companies are lining up to launch as many as 60,000 new-generation low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, which will provide global internet and communications coverage with far less signal delay than current satellites. 

The new satellites will also result in lower costs than existing LEO systems like the popular Iridium, because they’re more compact. New LEO satellites from OneWeb—whose backers include Sir Richard Branson—weigh just 320 pounds each, for example, about one fifth as much as currently orbiting Iridium satellites. Per-pound launch costs are expected to decrease from the present $1,300 to just $500, according to SpaceX founder Elon Musk. 

Dozens of new-generation LEO satellites already are in orbit, and networks linking them could be at least partially activated by 2021 and fully operational by 2022. The technology has attracted heavy hitters such as SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon, China’s Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, and the aforementioned OneWeb. 

However, the economic viability of LEO technology was called into question when OneWeb filed for bankruptcy in March after launching 74 satellites. The company had hoped to put as many as 48,000 satellites in orbit and is currently seeking a buyer from a list of candidates that includes Amazon, Eutelsat, and several Chinese entities. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Defense, seeing the potential of LEO technology, has indicated that it may provide financial assistance to emerging LEO companies. 

The low orbit necessitates the frequent handoff of signals between satellites to provide seamless coverage and demands more satellites. At least one provider plans to address the handoff problem with automatic switching via lasers. But to satisfy the anticipated demand, companies will have to launch about eight times as many satellites as have been placed in Earth orbit since 1960. 

Constellations of the latest LEO satellites promise fiber-optic-network-like speed at much lower cost. Tests on initial new-generation LEO satellites developed by Airbus have shown they can deliver speeds of over 400 megabits per second, latency of just 40 milliseconds, and seamless beam and satellite handovers—even over previously blacked-out regions such as the Arctic. For business aircraft, the main advantages concern antenna size, speed, and coverage area. 

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Manufacturers are developing aircraft antenna systems that can receive signals from these new LEO satellites. Satcom Direct, in partnership with Germany’s QEST, is working on an electronically steered, fuselage-mounted phased-array antenna that will deliver high-speed connectivity for aircraft as small as light jets via the upcoming LEO constellations. Also working with QEST, the company recently unveiled SD Plane Simple, a tail-mounted satcom antenna for midsize to large business jets using Ku-band and Ka-band satellite systems that employ the same network-agnostic line-replaceable units and wiring.

Honeywell’s Aspire 150 is designed to work with LEO satellites, including Iridium Next, via an embedded router to provide high-speed connectivity to midsize business aircraft and helicopters. Matched with Honeywell’s optional GoDirect software—which can manage bandwidth, service, and usage—the equipment can allow operators to save up to $100,000 per year, according to the company. 

Avance L5
Avance L5

Ready for 5G 
Gogo is preparing to add 5G capability to its 4G Avance L5 air-to-ground communications system, which provides coverage over North America. Gogo’s 4G network is already three times faster than its 3G network. Avance L5, in service in more than 900 aircraft, offers streaming internet content. Gogo 5G, to be introduced in 2021, incorporates licensed and unlicensed frequencies simultaneously—a feature that speeds up performance and increases redundancy. Gogo 5G will perform 10 times faster than 3G networks while adding more data throughput capacity. Avance L5 provides dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and other features, all from a single box.

 Mobile Wi-Fi for Helicopters
The vexing problem of connecting helicopters to 3G/4G networks appears to have been solved. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has approved Germany-based ESG’s 3G/4G mobile communications and cabin Wi-Fi for Airbus EC135 and EC635 helicopters. The approval covers installation of a cabin Wi-Fi hotspot with 3G/4G cellular modem and outside antennas.

ESG software installed on a Wi-Fi router on the helicopter enables secure internet access that can be customized to accommodate many applications, including protected transmission of police data, real-time communication of sensitive patient information for medevac operations, secure private communications, and infotainment in helicopter shuttles. ESG said the EASA approval “allows for a comparatively fast transfer to other helicopter types.”

All the World’s a Bigger “Stage”
Collins Aerospace’s Stage on-demand, in-flight streaming service provides customers with a library of thousands of entertainment choices delivered wirelessly to their personal devices, including television shows, movies, sports feeds, and music. Now, a new wired option interfaces with the company’s Venue cabin-management service to display choices on bulkhead monitors and individual seat displays and is available as an option on new aircraft. The company said that offering wireless and wired alternatives gives customers more flexibility. 


The “One Box” Solution
Interactive Mobility has launched the Flymingo “one box” streaming service. Passengers can access media and flight information directly from a local cloud on personal devices via one of three methods: Flymingo Box, a small server that deploys the streaming service; Flymingo Next, an embedded server; and Flymingo Connect, which features a portal integrated into existing infrastructure. Interactive says its solution is a practical alternative to systems that display over dedicated built-in screens and other devices. It also offers customers more flexibility and choices. 


Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot|
Aircraft cabins have traditionally had hot and cold spots. Now Germany’s Lufthansa Technik has a solution it calls HeatNow, a system of “heater layers” that defeats cold spots. The HeatNow pad—which can be installed onto almost any floor panel, galley, or seating area—consists of a heater layer and two additional layers for protection. Connected to 115V AC, the electro-conductive coating acts as a resistor and warms up. The temperature can be regulated on different levels, providing an even and homogeneous heated area. 


Light It Up
Leading aviation companies, including Airbus and Lufthansa Technik, are exploring the possibility of incorporating “li-fi” into aircraft cabins. Li-fi transmits data at very high speeds via “smart” LED lights that change intensity without interfering with radio signals. The data cannot pass through walls, which means that the technology is as secure as it is fast: up to five gigabits per second when used with RGB accent lighting. Conceivably, this will allow high-speed data streaming from a central databus to each lighting fixture on the aircraft, which would in turn connect to a passenger’s personal device. 

Collins’s Airshow ASXI
Collins’s Airshow ASXI

Are We There Yet?
Collins’s Airshow ASXI high-definition moving maps provide terrain data and satellite and high-focus maps that display more points of interest than similar products. They also give passengers the ability to see the flight as it appears on the pilot’s head-up cockpit display. The HD-SDI output connection provides smooth compatibility with HD and 4K monitors. Passengers have precise location information layered with data that includes flight stats and world clocks. The system can be combined with the Airshow mobile and HGML 5 browser application.

Innovative Products Address COVID Concerns
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone new light on cabin technology designed to combat pathogens.

Aviation Clean Air has teamed with International Aero Engineering to create a portable, ground-use-only ionization purification system to disinfect aircraft interiors. Building on ACA’s airborne system, the portable unit purifies air and surfaces by flooding the aircraft with electronically created, pathogen-killing ions. The unit—which draws power from a standard 110-volt outlet—can disinfect a cabin in under two hours. 

Laboratory tests have shown that the technology employed by both ACA’s airborne and ground units neutralizes COVID-19 in conditions that replicate aircraft interiors. The tests have also demonstrated that neutralization begins immediately and that up to 99.4 percent of the virus is “inactivated” within 30 minutes. 

Unlike the ground unit, ACA’s airborne ionization purification system operates through an aircraft’s existing environmental-control equipment. The purification system not only kills pathogens in the air and on surfaces but also eliminates odors. 

Both the ground and air systems use proprietary technology. They employ an electronic charge to create a high concentration of positive and negative ions that travel through the air and seek out and attach to particles that then become larger and can be eliminated more rapidly. Positive and negative ions also have microbicidal effects on pathogens, ultimately reducing the infectivity of the virus. The ACA systems are maintenance-free and, unlike traditional bipolar ionization systems, do not produce harmful ozone as a byproduct.

Dimer’s GermFalcon ultraviolet-light aircraft sanitizing system, meanwhile, will be marketed by aerospace-component giant Honeywell as the Honeywell UV Cabin System. Germicidal ultraviolet has been proven to eliminate viruses, including those that cause coronavirus, Ebola, and influenza. 

The GermFalcon system is packed into a machine that’s about as big as a beverage cart and can treat an aircraft the size of a narrow-body airliner in under 10 minutes for an estimated cost of less than $10. The machine hosts a series of extendable UV-light arms that sweep over cabin surfaces. 

Another new product, this one from GE Aviation, also addresses COVID-19 concerns. Called Health Application ID, it screens employees and passengers and clears objects on aircraft as disinfected. Passengers can use the system to view the cleaning history of their airplanes. 

The technology, which is currently being demonstrated to potential customers, enables users to set test-result protocols and check compliance with new COVID-19 medical screening guidelines for employees and passengers. Test results and other information are encrypted. The system creates a protocol to embed passenger identity information and medical screening results into the boarding process in “a highly secure environment,” according to GE. —M.H.