Aircraft Interiors Expo

 - September 18, 2006, 12:27 PM

“It’s like opening night on Broadway,” whispered a visitor to the 2006 Aircraft Interiors Expo, as he edged carefully past a showgoer with two bags stuffed with show literature and a waiter balancing a tray of champagne.

Since its inaugural in Cannes, France, in 2000, the Aircraft Interiors Expo has expanded every year. This year was no different, with yet another hall added to accommodate a total of 504 exhibitors.

Show organizers had expected a total attendance of more than 11,000 and met that goal with a total attendance of 11,595. In fact, the size of the crowd on the second day prompted many exhibitors to employ “gatekeepers” to take business cards and schedule meetings.

Frank McKnight, president of Aircraft Belts and CFO of Signature Plating, chose this year to make an initial appearance at the exposition, and before the end of the second day he had reserved an exhibit stand for next year. McKnight said the Kemah, Texas-based company had previously exhibited at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (EBACE) but had decided in favor of the Hamburg interiors show. “It’s a matter of where we thought our money was better spent,” said McKnight, “and this is it.”

Cabin Entertainment Options

A new twist to the exhibit placement this year was Hall 9, which was devoted almost exclusively to cabin communication and entertainment systems. Exhibitors there included many names well known to the business aviation industry: AeroMobile, AirCell, Arinc, Bose Products, Chelton Satcom, Rockwell Collins and Satcom Direct.

Also present were a number of manufacturers of portable video players. Springville, Utah-based digEcor was promoting its new digEplayerXT and IMS Inflight of Anaheim, Calif., its personal entertainment appliance.

Films, games and other forms of entertainment are downloaded into the hard drive, giving viewers about 100 hours of video entertainment. Payment is through an embedded credit-card reader, and the lightweight portable players are available already on a number of all-business-class airlines, including MaxJet.

Asked about the introduction of portable entertainment systems into the business aviation market, digEcor president Greg Beeston said he has talked with fractional operator NetJets. The problems, however, are in the logistics of the necessary frequent downloading of refreshed entertainment packages, determination of a pricing structure and satisfying major film studios and entertainment software manufacturers that their products will be adequately protected from electronic pirates.

IMS Inflight CEO Alan Pellegrini said business aviation companies interested in
the IMS seven-inch-screen player have approached the company. He also noted that follow-on products will include touch-screen and WiFi. The IMS player is already offered on all-business-class flights by start-up transatlantic carrier EOS.

Personal video players are one thing. Installed video monitors are quite another, and equally popular with showgoers. Aircraft Cabin Systems of Redmond, Wash., was introducing its new 32-inch LCD monitor, actually an upgrade of the older 30-inch model.

But most of the emphasis was on its new 42-inch LCD screen. According to ACS marketing and sales coordinator Ben Ludlow, the monitors are listed at $23,500 and $39,500, respectively. “The next step,” said Ludlow, “will be a 46- or 47-inch LCD monitor.” And he noted that interest seems to be growing for something larger than the company’s current 50-inch gas plasma monitor. “Face it,” said Ludlow, “bigger is better.”

Cabin Comfort

Lufthansa Technik, comfortable in its Hamburg hometown, announced development and certification of an enhanced cabin thermal/acoustic system in partnership with Mexmil, of Santa Ana, Calif.

“We have been developing this noise-reduction insulation system in our acoustic laboratory for more than two years,” said Kai-Stefan Ropke, Lufthansa Technik’s director of aircraft interiors. Mexmil provided “substantial” consultation during the development and certification of the thermal/acoustic package and is responsible for manufacture and marketing of the product under license from Lufthansa Technik.

The first aircraft equipped with the package was an executive 747-400 delivered last year. The package was designed for large executive aircraft but “might be scaled to fit business jets smaller than the Airbus ACJ and Boeing Business Jet.” According to a Lufthansa spokesman, the result is not only a quieter cabin, “it’s less expensive than anything else on the market.”

In the never-ending quest to make a more comfortable seat, even an executive chaise, Lantal Textiles offered its contribution at Expo 2006. The key is a pneumatic cushion, and the Swiss company is sufficiently convinced of the validity of the technology that it created a new Pneumatic Systems Division in January to confirm the market potential.

During airborne tests last spring, the pneumatic back and seat cushions and upholstery were fitted on a Recaro seat frame and installed in an Airbus A319 CJ. The pneumatic seat was also tested on a charter aircraft operated by Saudi Arabia’s National Air Service. According to Dr. Roland von Ballmoos, executive v-p of corporate development and pneumatic systems, the price of Lantal’s pneumatic seat is likely to be no more than 1 or 2 percent more than the price of current foam-buildup seats. Ballmoos said Bombardier and Jet Aviation have expressed an interest in a business jet version.

One of the more interesting displays was radio frequency identification (RFID) systems. 3M Aerospace and Eastern Aero Marine introduced a life-vest tracking solution based on 3M-produced software, with protective label RFID tags and electronic readers. Using the system, maintenance crews can determine the existence of RFID-equipped life vests on an aircraft in minutes. Other levels of interrogation might also be included, such as whether a scheduled physical inspection is required.

Cabin noise cancellation packages appear to have taken a quiet turn in a new direction. Inflight Peripherals revealed an integrated noise-canceling audio module that it claimed will eliminate the need for costly headset noise- cancellation electronics. The English Isle of Wight-based company is working with major headset suppliers to ensure that their products are compatible with the Inflight Peripherals module. The system is already a standard option on the latest Thales and Rockwell Collins in-flight entertainment systems.

Worried about avian flu? Air Data has revealed “definitive” results of aviation flu testing on its JetAir bio-protection system. Tests conducted by the company’s AirInSpace partner through the Laboratoire de Virologie et Pathogenese Viral in Lyon, France, showed a reduction from a “high concentration” at the entry point to an “undetectable level” at the exit point.

Air Data, headquartered at Montreal, claims its cold plasma solution is a “quantum leap” in airplane air purity, protecting passengers and crew from a wide range of unhealthy and unpleasant air contaminants, both biological and chemical.

Travelers whose sports interests lie in international and World Cup soccer were cheering for Rockwell Collins at the expo. The company announced that it is offering a SportsTicker software upgrade that displays soccer scores and includes a double-line news and information ticker display. The upgrade has been available since April 15 on Collins Airshow 4000 and 4200 moving-map display systems.

Soccer scores and update information will include England’s Premiere, Spain’s Primera and Germany’s Gundesliga divisions. League season games, regional and world championship matches, including the 2006 World Cup, will be available.

While Aircraft Interiors Expo 2006 in Hamburg appears to have been a success, show founder and CEO of UKIP Media & Events Tony Robinson said there was no rest for the weary. Aircraft Interiors Expo Asia will open for a three-day run from September 27 to 29 at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Center.

The 2005 inaugural Asia show drew 130 exhibitors and more than 1,700 attendees representing 57 airlines. If the numbers appear to be low, Robinson seems undaunted. “It was not a question of busy but a question of business.” And business was good enough that by the end of the event, 75 percent of the exhibitors had rebooked their space for this year. At this point, Robinson expects to see more than 200 exhibitors at this year’s expo, and possibly double the number of attendees.