Lufthansa Technik near fully integrated cabin

 - October 2, 2007, 11:24 AM

It’s not exactly the “Holy Grail,” but for business aviation operators and those whose job it is to install aircraft interiors, it’s close. What they’ve been so diligently seeking is a system that integrates all the various cabin electronics–lighting, audio-video equipment and communication systems–into a single, user- friendly, reliable and easily maintained unit. And in that best of worlds, the system and all its components would come from a single source, reducing the cost of the initial installation and subsequent maintenance and upgrades.

Now, Lufthansa Technik believes the goal to be at least within reach, in the form of its new Nice cabin and related avionics components, the acronym standing for networked integrated cabin equipment.

The effort by the Hamburg, Germany-based specialist in widebody interior completions began in mid-2002 when a cabin avionics “brain trust,” led by Australian-born engineer Andrew Muirhead, was assembled to work together as Lufthansa Technik Innovations Engineering. The new business division was Muirhead’s idea, according to a Lufthansa Technik spokesman. “The company had gotten tired of shopping around for the various cabin avionics components, and then being forced to create yet another cabin management system from scratch to tie it all together.”

The innovations team began by developing a number of new products:

  • An “invisible” high-fidelity flat-panel audio speaker created by the attachment of audio transducers to existing cabin panels.
  • A modular entertainment hardware rack to replace “one-off” racks that are heavier and cannot be adapted to fit new hardware.
  • A combined satcom/satellite-direct television antenna for mounting in a radome atop the vertical stabilizer. The system has been certified for installation on the Boeing Business Jet.

Accepting the limitations of its in-house manufacturing capabilities, Muirhead and his group began looking for partners in specific technologies. The subsequent agreements would allow Lufthansa Technik to market the end product directly to business-jet customers. One of Lufthansa Technik’s first tactical maneuvers was the late-2001 agreement with Connexion by Boeing. The U.S. company was working on a mechanically steered antenna that would allow in-flight high-speed Internet connection via satellite providers. The partnership was successful, and the system was certified last month on an A340-300 airliner–ironically, an airplane produced by Boeing competitor Airbus.

A smaller, fuselage-mounted, phased-array, digitally steered antenna was subsequently created with Connexion by Boeing for the Airbus ACJ and Boeing Business Jet and is already in service. Lufthansa Technik markets the system directly to its business jet customers.

With Connexion by Boeing, Lufthansa is claiming coverage over Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the continental U.S. South America and South Africa are expected to be included this year. (The system is being developed further for medium and large business jets by Lufthansa Technik competitor Rockwell Collins, in partnership with Connexion by Boeing. An announcement is expected later this spring.) According to Lufthansa Technik’s Aage Dunhaupt, as part of the company’s new Nice cabin management system, the Internet onboard system will allow an air-to-ground transmission rate of 3 mbps and a ground-to-air rate of 5 mbps, “for now.” A next-generation connection, he said, is already in the pipeline that would increase the speed of ground-to-air transmission four-fold, “probably as early as this summer.”

Making ‘Nice’
The Nice cabin was announced last fall as a joint development with Cisco Systems of San Jose, Calif., and Videon Central of College Park, Pa. The system, said Lufthansa Technik, “...will displace conglomerated in-flight entertainment systems with numerous separate networks that distribute entertainment and cabin control functions.”

Lufthansa is offering it for installation in large business jets and bizliners. It is also available to aircraft manufacturers and independent completion and refurbishment centers for installation in medium business jets equipped with a 28-volt electrical system.

Nice controls all cabin functions and distributes audio and video signals and data on a single, digital Ethernet network over a 1000 BaseTX uplink and 13.6-gb backbone. Among the advantages:

  • Wireless 802.11b system control.
  • Single-source control of lighting, temperature, furniture and shades, water monitoring and other environmental functions.
  • Connection via Ethernet port identical to office or home.
  • High-fidelity, surround-sound audio.

The personal control unit (PCU) can be used in three positions–fully docked in the seat, fully retracted and wireless. A memory stick holds system presets and authorization. Lufthansa expects the memory stick, which will let users carry their favorite settings from aircraft to aircraft, will be of particular interest to fractional owners and operators, or corporate flight departments with a large number of aircraft. The full cabin environment can be preset and controlled with the graphical user interface (GUI).

Ethernet-compatible displays include a 42-inch gas plasma model that can process all video formats. There are also 6.5-inch, 10.4-inch, 15-inch, 20-inch and 30-inch LCD displays with VGH, YUV and composite video input. The smaller displays offer screen resolution of 1,024 x 768, while the larger 30-inch model has a resolution of 1,280 x 768.

Nice supports wireless technology for laptop computers, Webpads, PDAs and other devices with wireless protocol Ethernet cards (IEEE 802-11b). Wireless IP telephone handsets are also available, as well as a “soft” phone that can be installed on any laptop.

Satellite Imagery On A Moving-map Display
Lufthansa Technik has added its satellite-imagery AirTrack moving map to the growing line of cabin avionics products. AirTrack, like other Lufthansa Technik avionics products, is the result of a carefully selected partnership–in this case, with TEAC Aerospace of Montebello, Calif.

Unlike existing moving-map displays, AirTrack makes use of satellite terrain imagery, primarily from providers in the U.S. and Russia. Lufthansa Technik describes it as “a 3-D, detailed topographical map.” The system lets the user switch from the moving-map display created by the photographic database to actual real-time video images from optional cameras in housings outside the aircraft.

The operator can choose to use an image of his own aircraft for the display, including distinctive paint scheme and company logo. According to Dunhaupt, the image on the screen accurately mimics the movements of the aircraft in which the system is installed. As the aircraft climbs or descends, detail in the terrain map changes appropriately.

Standard resolution is 30-meters-per-pixel (about 100 feet), but resolutions as fine as 50 centimeters (about 19 inches) are available.

The nine-pound, 28-volt system will also be available for installation by aircraft manufacturers and independent completion and refurbishment centers in most business jets, from small up. It is compatible, said Dunhaupt, with existing electronic infrastructures.

The first AirTrack will enter service this summer on the German airline Air Berlin for route-proving flights. Installation on the entire fleet is planned for this autumn. Dunhaupt said the system is available for business jets. A BBJ2 owner with whom Lufthansa Technik is currently in negotiations for the interior completion contract has expressed an interest in AirTrack.

Even with the emergence of new avionics components and the Nice cabin, Dunhaupt emphasized that work continues to improve existing products and develop new ones. Better things in the engineering pipeline include a next-generation panel speaker; an improved wireless local area network system; and technology that would allow ground-to-air information exchange so that technicians could trouble-shoot and solve problems while the airplane is in flight.

And he added, “There are other things we can’t talk about yet. But they’re coming. That’s why we named the new division ‘innovations engineering.’”