OFFICE-IN-THE-SKY

Mfrs offer improved hookups for exec communication aloft

Performance of smaller, lighter onboard data systems and IFE matches current biz demands.


Thrane & Thrane Aero-SB Lite is certified on the company's King Air 350. Aero-SB Lite weighs in at 17 lbs including electronics and antenna.

Its SwiftBroadband data channel is flexible and offers users a choice of streaming data on a pay-per-minute basis or background data where the operator is only charged for data used.

Using Thrane & Thrane's voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) handset or the customer's own compatible Wi-Fi enabled devices, smartphones, PDAs and laptops all connect the aircraft to the outside world.

One thing I find intriguing about the Thrane & Thrane systems is the built-in Ethernet switch for supporting numerous wired laptops and/or electronic flight bags (EFBs). Many operators are frustrated by the lack of a cockpit connection that has a normal data rate for functions like flight planning and car rental.

Imagine the time saved accessing your EFB during cruise to check the details needed to get the mission done with the same efficiency your boss is connecting to the office. The Aero-SB Lite is an attractive option for business aircraft operators.

Rockwell Collins Venue systems and eXchange data service

Many know the Rockwell Collins line of cabin systems and data services, beginning with the familiar Airshow line. But Rockwell Collins' product line expansion has been steady on both the home entertainment and data side of cabin services with the eXchange broadband satellite communication system and the new Venue entertainment system.

Rockwell Collins cabin systems can be tailored or customized for the OEM as well as the aftermarket, enabling the OEM brand to increase both value and market discrimination for itself. Rockwell Collins' eXchange broadband data received an FCC commercial license to operate in the US in 2006.

Rockwell Collins is also offering eXchange, coupled with SKYLink service to provide a real time 2-way connectivity system for broadband speeds of up to 3.5 Mbps to the aircraft. The system enables access to e-mail, corporate intranets (VPN) and of course the Internet.

Interestingly, the combination of eXchange and SKYLink also provides a seamless transition with no interruption in satellite coverage if you are flying from one zone to the next. The system also has the option for global VoIP telephone service and videoconferencing.

Rockwell Collins Venue is designed to integrate with the passenger's iPhone, iPod and other personal electronics, and provide HD quality video. In-seat programming also provides for user custom preferences.

In addition, eXchange supports data connectivity for select Wi-Fi enabled smartphones, such as BlackBerry models 8320 and 8820, allowing users to access e-mail and other data services. For the business traveler this is important-your Black_Berry, once set up with the aircraft, will always know where you are. You stay connected and productive.

The eXchange target market is larger business jets such as the Bombardier Global Express, Dassault Falcon 7X and Gulfstream G550. In Oct 2008 Rockwell Collins also announced new software features for the Airshow 4000 moving map display and flight information system.

New features include atlas maps expansion, point of interest (POI) panels, real-time 3D day/ night animation and additional map resolutions. The new atlas maps also feature interstates, major highways, and their associated icon markers, and are now available for North America and Europe with planned expansion to other regions of the world.

Airshow 4000's new POI panels can also provide image and text information about points along the flight route, including graphical transitions on the 3D map that allows real-time appearance of dawn, day, dusk and night.

Home entertainment in the sky

A big plus for Rockwell Collins cabin systems has been the recent innovation of the Venue as a full home entertainment style cabin system. Venue is complete with Apple iPod and iPhone compatibility, a media center, smart seat arrangement and even the ability to share music from seat to seat.

The Wi-Fi part of Venue even lets your iTouch work the Internet like any hotspot on the ground. Venue includes video and Internet connectivity in the cabin (through eXchange if the customer included it as part of the Venue system).

The system uses an Ethernet backbone and both standard and advanced sound and video dedicated connections to an HD audio-video (HDAV) distributor. Displays for the seat are 10.6-inch LCDs and are HD supporting viewing formats including the now consumer standard 16:9 movie format.

And HD viewing for the cabin can be for 32-inch LCD or bigger depending on the aircraft. For each seat with the HD video screen, headset connections with controls and a menu are simple to use. Each seat also sports connection options for auxiliary audio video connections for portable media player inputs such as iPod, USB and VGA connections.

Venue can also be customized for your personal iPod with a seat mounted docking station, connecting your portable music library or videos so it can be distributed to each seat in the cabin. The Venue HDAV supports connectivity to HD or Blu-ray DVD players, gaming systems like Microsoft Xbox 360, and other devices such as CD/MP3 players.

Rockwell Collins has also introduced the first airworthy stand-alone Blu-ray disc players for business jets. These players will be available beginning this fall and will provide full 1080p video playback and are backward compatible with standard definition DVDs and audio CDs.

Output from Venue's central brain or media center device to the display is also 1080p (ie, 1080 vertical lines with progressive scanning). 1080p is currently the highest standard as compared to conventional TV.

So think of Venue much like a high end home theater with the media center acting as the entertainment source providing capability such as Blu-ray DVD, photo slide shows, audio-video jukebox and games.

The HDAV acts as the receiver, taking multiple entertainment inputs and routing them to the display. The Venue HDAV also comes with the ability to support standard quality devices such as VHS players or DVD players that are not HD, and up-converts their video signals to improve the image quality for viewing at any of the HD seat displays.

The media center also delivers the user selected content by managing the device for you, and brings it to your seat for viewing. So unlike my house where we still have 3 or 4 remotes to access Xbox or DVDs, the media center device and seat menu lets you pick through one source.

Each seat is really an IP address connected through the Ethernet backbone similar to your personal Internet connection. So after you have set your preferences to lighting, temperature and video content, the customized settings follow you to each seat in the aircraft.

Hawker Beechcraft chose Venue recently for its light jet aircraft, and it will also be featured on the new King Air 350i. A trend with OEMs is the distinct marketing advantage that comes with a customized cabin and home entertainment system.

So Hawker Beechcraft and others have begun to take full advantage of this technology. Now, as advanced flightdecks have come of age, so has innovation in the office-in-the-sky and home entertainment.

The amazing thing is that all of these innovations are finally becoming mainstream technology, not slapped in like the old stereo shops used to do. Media and connectivity is now such a big part of productivity in the workplace, everyone should be glad to see it in the ultimate working tool-the business jet.

Glenn Connor is the president of Discover Technology Intl and is a researcher and pilot specializing in the development of enhanced vision systems and advanced avionics.

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