Airshow 21 lends cockpit ideas to cabin integration

 - May 8, 2008, 5:31 AM

There have been a lot of winners in the historic cycle of mergers and acquisitions in the aviation industry. Unfortunately, customers haven’t always been among them.

The recently completed buyout by Rockwell Collins of cabin products specialist Airshow, however, should garner rewards not only for the new parent company, but also for business aircraft operators, who may now choose from an array of in-flight electronic equipment. This includes satellite TV, high-speed Internet access, satcom, environmental controls and other systems, integrated inside the passenger compartment similar to the architecture of the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21 avionics system for the cockpit.

The evolving endeavor, known as Collins Airshow 21, seeks to provide buyers with a complete line of cabin electronics and products all integrated into a central network
and tailored to meet individual customers’ wants and needs.

“Airshow 21 is a natural extension of Rockwell Collins’ avionics system integration,” said Denny Helgeson, vice president and general manager for business and regional aircraft markets. Collins Airshow 21 systems are being based on a flexible, digital communications backbone first applied to cockpit avionics, he explained. The combination of engineering know-how from Rockwell Collins, already a heavyweight in cabin markets, with Airshow, a leading supplier of moving maps and satellite direct TV systems, he said, is “positioning us to become a premier provider of cabin electronics systems.”

In creating Airshow 21 for the business aviation market, Rockwell Collins discovered a number of market drivers that the new venture will seek to address. Based on discussions with customers, these included shorter cycle times for delivery and installation of products, production-line installation wherever possible, standardized interface of systems and products, reduction of installation costs and better reliability.

Bryan Vester, senior director of marketing and strategic management at Rockwell Collins, said the company was already deeply involved in the development stages for some cabin avionics systems for the airline market and has been redoubling efforts in business aviation since the takeover of Airshow in August.

“Airshow was complementary to our strategy and filled a lot of our systems and product gaps,” said Vester during September’s NBAA Convention.

A Complete Product Menu

Collins describes the Airshow 21 product line as “a solution set for the business aviation cabin.” The product family includes high-speed Internet connectivity, entertainment through DVD, CD and satellite TV and cabin-environment controls with simplified user interfaces.

A main ingredient of the Airshow 21 service mix is reliable air-to-ground data connectivity for secure, high-speed airborne access to e-mail, the Internet and videoconferencing. The system also provides interfaces for file sharing and standard office equipment, including printers, fax machines and scanners.

An optional local-area network (LAN) allows multiple users to access the system and connect to ground-based networks at the home office. The system can be enhanced through the addition of a wireless LAN, said Collins, permitting users to maintain network connections while moving around inside the cabin.

Buyers may choose to install a system that allows Internet browsing, or they can elect to store pre-packaged information such as news, weather and sports on an onboard file server updated regularly using the satcom system and Inmarsat’s Swift64 service.

The entertainment features of Airshow 21 allow passengers to select and control a number of in-flight systems, including multiple VCRs, DVD players, satellite TV and multi-disc CD changers. The system is also designed to support advanced capabilities such as audio/video-on-demand and real-time news, information, weather and entertainment content from a variety of sources, including the Collins Airshow Network, satellite TV systems and, as audio and video content becomes available, digital movie and audio programming. Collins Airshow 21, said the company, also gives passengers and crew the ability to manage various environmental systems in the cabin, galley and lavatory, including temperature, lighting and water.

Satellite direct TV continues to be a strong seller and was boosted recently with the announcement that programming has been expanded to include the Middle East with 25 premium channels. Airshow now sells the multi-region Tailwind 550 satellite TV system, introduced at the NBAA show, which can be configured for use in multiple zones (the U.S., Europe and the Middle East) and with as many as eight onboard receivers.

The Global Office in the Sky

The Airshow 21 “global office solution” includes Collins SAT-906 satcom linking through Swift64. The Aero-H+ data service provides six channels for multiple laptop hookups and is supported by 60-watt HPA and 64-kbps bidirectional data that Collins said is expandable to 128 kbps.

Among the first hard examples of Collins’ vision will be the cabin of Bombardier’s new Global 5000, scheduled to make its first flight early next year. At NBAA Bombardier and Collins jointly announced they are developing a new integrated cabin for the Canadian-built jet. Airshow 21 in that airplane will include an Ethernet- based LAN, providing users with Internet connections and access to printers, fax and a file server, while wireless connections will permit passengers to move around the cabin and tap into the network with their laptop computers.

The Global 5000 will be one of the first jets to take advantage of the  audio/video-on-demand services for digital music and movie content tailored to the passengers’ preferences. Collins’ new HST-900 high-speed data terminal will provide the link to the Internet.

Collins Airshow 21, said the company, will also allow Global 5000 passengers and crew to manage various environmental systems from centralized control panels. Temperature, lighting, water and waste systems will all be within easy access for the cabin, lavatory and the galley. Servicing and maintenance will be improved with the design of specialized diagnostic equipment, said Collins.