Aircraft Electronics Association Report

 - June 2, 2008, 9:30 AM

The Aircraft Electronics Association’s annual convention, held April 23 through 26 near Washington, D.C., served as a bustling venue for more than two dozen new-product introductions, many of them geared toward satisfying the entertainment and communications needs of passengers.

Aircell at the show announced introductory pricing for its air-to-ground broadband data service, saying it will charge a flat monthly fee of $1,495 for unlimited access by business aviation users. The company also said it intends to offer lower-priced plans for bizjet customers who don’t need always- on access. The broadband hardware required to link to the service aboard large-cabin business jets will be similar to the two-antenna data systems being installed now on a number of American Airlines Boeing 767s, Aircell said. It will sell for around $125,000 and include Wi-Fi capability throughout the cabin. Lower-priced systems for smaller business jets will be offered beginning next year as “modular add-ons” to the Aircell Axxess cabin communication system.

Aircell also revealed that access to its GoGo broadband Internet service for airline passengers will cost $9.95 on flights of less than three hours and $12.95 for longer flights. The service is scheduled to go live this summer. A nationwide network of 92 broadband sites will provide the coverage across the U.S. above 10,000 feet, although Aircell can rapidly expand the network to as many as 500 ground sites to meet future capacity needs, said company CEO Jack Blumenstein. Aircell has also partnered with Thrane & Thrane to offer a compact, lightweight  SwiftBroadband-compatible satcom system that will provide data access to business jet passengers outside the U.S. The company is one of the top sellers of Iridium satcom hardware as well.

Flight Display Systems of Alpharetta, Ga., meanwhile, unveiled the Fly HD product line, billed as the world’s first “true high-definition cabin video system” for business jets. “To display an HD video signal, you need both an HD source, such as a Blu-ray DVD player, and an HD monitor,” explained David Gray, Flight Display Systems president. “Although the industry has a few HD monitors approved for in-flight use, there has been no HD source equipment produced for private aviation applications. With Fly HD, we have engineered the missing links to allow an off-the-shelf Blu-ray product to successfully communicate with the HD monitors on board the aircraft.”

The company has also come up with a creative way to add a Blu-ray video player to the cabin– a $1,995 docking station for a Sony PlayStation 3 video gaming console. The dock allows the PS3 to be carried on and off the airplane. When it slides into the docking cradle, it can be powered on and used to play games or show Blu-ray movies on the cabin monitors in HD, Gray said. Flight Display Systems offers HD cabin  screens in a variety of sizes from 17 to 42 inches diagonal.

DPI Labs of La Verne, Calif., unveiled a video iPod cabin integration system at AEA that the company touted as simple to install and use. The company’s personal video switcher (PVS) integrates iPod video onto any cabin monitor. It can protect the privacy of the passenger’s media content by displaying the source video on only one monitor rather than throughout the cabin. Local video is switched automatically to iPod video when the unit detects a signal from the RCA jack on the passenger’s control panel. The unit is compatible with all analog video formats, including non-iPod sources, and incorporates video briefing and PA audio override to meet FAA safety requirements, the company said.

True North Avionics showed off a new multimedia satcom handset–with LCD display and built-in noise cancellation–at AEA that is part of the Canadian company’s Simphone line of cabin communication systems. The handset is offered in  mahogany, cherry, beech and other hardwood finishes. The handset also supports voice-over-IP calling for use with the Inmarsat Swift64 and SwiftBroadband satellite services. True North’s Chorus, Duo and Solo cabin telecommunication systems are designed specifically for large-cabin business jets. At AEA the company unveiled a cockpit datalink unit that connects through the system to give the crew access to Acars and AFIS messaging over the low-cost Iridium satcom network.   

Meanwhile, Iridium satcom maker International Communications Group (ICG) announced that it has completed the integration of its ICS satcom system line with the Universal Avionics UniLink UL-70x communications management unit (CMU). The Universal UniLink CMU can now integrate any ICS unit with the UL-700/701 CMU for uplinking text or graphical weather updates over the Iridium network, as well as accessing features such as free-text messaging, position reporting and Acars messaging. ICG also noted that Embraer has selected its ICS-400 satcom system as the standard Iridium link for the Lineage 1000 bizliner.

Another Iridium satcom supplier, Sky Connect of Takoma Park, Md., introduced the Forté phone system, billing the product as a “full-featured” satcom system for business airplanes that sells for less than $15,000. The single-line system can be shared with as many as five handsets, and a second line can be added at minimal cost, the company said. “Forté is ideal for first-time phone buyers or those who are replacing” a MagnaStar phone, said a spokesman. “It is particularly well suited for turbine-powered aircraft for putting a tele- phone on the flight deck, in the cabin, or both.” With an integrated intercom system, Forté allows flight crew and passengers to communicate between the cockpit and cabin. A USB port provides e-mail and data access. The basic system consists of a wireless handset, active noise-canceling corded handset and cockpit dialer.  

Cockpit Developments

There was plenty of cockpit-related news at the AEA Convention as well, but many of the announcements manufacturers made at the show had already leaked out at Sun ’n’ Fun in Lakeland, Fla., a few weeks before. What most attendees wanted to learn more about was the synthetic-vision system Garmin unveiled and Avidyne’s new flight-management system. The opening day of the convention, attendees crowded around the Garmin booth to get a closer look at the synthetic-vision technology (SVT) upgrade for the Olathe, Kan. company’s G1000 avionics system. Cessna and Diamond Aircraft will be the first OEMs to bring SVT to new airplanes, and Garmin said the system will also be offered to King Air operators who buy its G1000 retrofit avionics system.

AEA visitors also got the chance to try out Avidyne’s FMS900W WAAS-enabled GPS navcom flight management system, designed for use with the manufacturer’s next-generation integrated avionics system, due to be unveiled later this year. The clean-sheet FMS is designed to reduce the workload of pilots flying turbine-class airplanes. System components include single or dual remote-mount line-replaceable units, each integrated with Avidyne’s GPS723 WAAS/ RNP GPS sensor and a DVX740 VHF navcom radio module. The FMS includes GeoFill and Vectors Mode features. GeoFill simplifies flight-plan entry by predicting and displaying the next waypoint or airport of a flight, based on the aircraft’s position, explained an Avidyne salesman. Vectors Mode enhances situational awareness by drawing heading vectors directly onto the system’s moving map.

Honeywell showed off its Apex Edge series of avionics upgrades for lightplanes, a package that includes a KFD 840 primary flight display and KSN 770 multifunction display. The MFD includes a 5.7-inch LCD, GPS WAAS navigator and navcom radio, as well as an “embedded” TAWS. The PFD consists of an 8.4-inch LCD intended to replace the instrument six-pack. It incorporates customizable checklists and graphical weight-and-balance calculations. While the products should find a ready market with Bendix/King fans, the Apex Edge series had a decidedly “down market” feel from the original Apex avionics systems recently certified in the PC-12.  

A company that has generated tremendous buzz since unveiling a line of LCD-based replacement instruments is Aspen Avionics, a tiny Albuquerque, N.M.-based company that recently gained TSO certification for its Evolution line of cockpit displays. The units were on display at AEA, and it’s easy to see why buyers are so excited about them. Not only did the displays on the $9,995 Evolution Pro series PFD and $7,995 EFD1000 MFD at Aspen’s booth look good, their menus and functions also seemed particularly well thought-out.

Aspen is offering lower-priced versions of the displays as well, including the $5,995 Evolution Pilot PFD and $4,995 EFD500 MFD, and has plans for a higher-end PFD. The units include integrated ADAHRS, backup battery, an emergency GPS receiver and altitude alerter. The horizontal situation indicator on the Pro series display integrates a course pointer and course deviation indicator onto the slaved compass rose, and adds two bearing pointers that the pilot can set to any VOR or GPS waypoint, for added situational awareness.

Sandel Avionics offers a similar line of replacement displays for piston and turbine-powered airplanes, but incorporating super-bright LED backlighting. Sandel bills the SA4550 primary attitude display as the “perfect update for aging Sperry and Collins” electromechanical ADIs. The unit accepts input from existing sensors to provide a depiction of the aircraft’s attitude in pitch and roll, but not the airspeed and altitude readouts that are included on the Aspen PFD. Sandel also offers the SN3500 navigation display.

This year’s show drew more than 1,800 avionics and aviation industry professionals to the recently christened Gaylord National Resort on the Potomac River near Oxen Hill, Md., for the four-day event. Next year’s AEA Convention will be held in Dallas from April 1 to 4.