‘Nice’ work boosts LHT to OEM status

 - May 21, 2007, 7:21 PM

Lufthansa Technik (Booth No. 1240) is delivering cabin systems for the Bombardier Challenger 300 at the rate of one a week and is looking to expand its product range and customer base further.

Andrew Muirhead, LHT’s director of innovation engineering, said the company’s new role as in-flight entertainment (IFE) equipment OEM happened relatively quickly: “We launched at the NBAA Convention last October with the mock-up and delivered the first ship set at the beginning of the year, so it’s been a pretty rapid ramp-up. We’ve had about a year’s lead time to prepare, so we’ve been pretty busy re-engineering the processes here to make sure we can deliver smoothly.” The equipment is delivered to Bombardier and contract completion center Midcoast Aviation.

The Challenger 300 system features single or dual DVD players, two 20-inch high definition (HD)-ready displays in the cabin, a digital amplifier and a flat-panel speaker system. Seven of the eight seats have standard touch screen passenger control units with noise-canceling headsets, and one is equipped with a four- by six-inch VIP touch panel providing extra functions. A similar panel in the galley adds all the crew functions. Airshow is integrated into the system, which is entirely Ethernet based–“a completely neutral system,” as Muirhead puts it–and has interfaces to the various systems in the galley and other cabin management functions.

Bizjet Size
It is based on the Nice system originally developed for airliner-based VIP aircraft with their 115-volt electrical distribution systems. The 28-volt system for the CL300 “is really our breakthrough into the smaller business jet market,” Muirhead said. “It was a challenge shrinking everything down because you’ve got a lot less space on a Challenger 300 than you do on a 737 or larger aircraft.”

The MRO-turned-IFE OEM has also integrated the ubiquitous iPod into the system. “You can play the audio over the speaker system, through the docking system in the front of the aircraft,” Muirhead said. The device can be controlled remotely from a touch screen display at the VIP seat, which provides access to the play list and all normal iPod functions.

Connecting the player to the stereo system was straightforward, Muirhead said, but the remote control was a bigger task. “We have an agreement with Apple that gives us access to the Lingo protocol, which is the language that the iPod speaks, and we have that link totally integrated into the system.” The next generation of iPod docks will use another version of Lingo to provide additional functionality, such as the ability to view album cover art when browsing the iTunes Store.

Muirhead is already looking beyond the Bombardier contract, though he is understandably reluctant to say more. But he offered a few hints: “You’ll see HD playing a much bigger role, all the displays we’re building are HD-ready. You’re going to see innovative tools for the customer support side of the system. We’ve got some interesting things coming up there.”

Wireless Tech

Wireless technology will be another focus: “We were the first ones to put wireless onto an aircraft and get it certified and we’re now getting ready to take that technology to the next level and increase the bandwidth available at the seats for the passengers.” On the connectivity front, a major upgrade of LHT’s router system will add data compression capability.

Due out in the current quarter is XM satellite radio integration. Also on the way are plug-in displays with touch screen capability and a 23-inch high-definition LCD display to provide a slightly larger bulkhead monitor for platforms between the size of the Challenger 300 and Boeing 737.

One exciting development effort under way in partnership with UK research house QinetiQ is aimed at providing surround sound on the trim panel speakers. A single panel can accept multiple channels, and the Challenger 300 has two more panels so it can reproduce sound in stereo, but the sound quality is such that customers taking delivery of their aircraft already think the stereo is surround sound, “so imagine their reaction when they get real surround sound.”

The move from in-house supplier to OEM has been mainly a mental one, Muirhead added: “In terms of the way Lufthansa Technik operates it’s not really a big change here, it’s more a mental change in that up until now we’ve been delivering parts to our own completion center, which is a handful of aircraft a year, and now we’re going into the bigger league where you’re delivering ship sets per week rather than a few ship sets per year.”