UK firm planning line of upgraded cabin products

 - August 11, 2008, 9:22 AM

IEC In-Flight Systems plans to introduce a  digital cabin management system (CMS) for business aircraft. The UK firm is developing a system that it says will be more affordable and require less maintenance than current packages offered for the more bespoke specifications of large VIP aircraft.

According to sales and marketing v-p Chris Nicholls, the new system will draw on lessons learned in the development of IEC’s airline cabin-entertainment systems, which require fewer boxes of hardware than rival equipment. He also said the digital units will not be “wildly different” in cost from its existing CMS units.

Based largely on existing proven technology, the new IEC system will not offer the same degree of functionality as the versions it has produced for high-specification, large VIP aircraft. For example, instead of offering a wide choice of video-on-demand selections, it will probably offer just three to six channels each for video and audio output.

In fact, Nicholls pointed out that there are some potential copyright issues associated with the use of digital cabin-entertainment systems in corporate aircraft. DVDs have to be copied onto the systems and, depending on the ownership and scale of the operation, this begs the question as to whether playing them violates the standard private-use restriction of commercial copyrights. “This remains a gray area,” he told AIN.

IEC next month will be showcasing a proof-of-concept version of the new CMS
at the NBAA Convention in Orlando, Fla. Prospective users will be invited to suggest further specifications.

Early next year the company is planning to introduce a new 46-inch LCD monitor. This flat-panel, bulkhead-mounted unit promises significantly improved picture resolution over existing plasma screens.

IEC, which is based just a few miles from London Heathrow Airport, already offers its PremierView range of monitors (in 15-, 20- and 30-inch choices) for larger VIP aircraft and the 15- and 20-inch CityView models for corporate aircraft. Later this year, a new 10.4-inch PremierView screen will be available.

The digital CMS will incorporate multimedia players that can run DVDs, CDs, CD-R/RWs, VCDs and SVCDs. The units also include distribution and switching systems, as well as color soft-switch panels for controlling systems such as entertainment, lighting, air conditioning, galley equipment and seats.

The fully integrated systems are built around databus technology and local-area network communications platforms. According to IEC, this approach makes maintenance more straightforward and also allows system changes to be made without needing to change cabling. Additionally, the use of advanced software with standard modular hardware has reduced the lead time for replacement parts.

IEC In-flight Systems was formed last October, after a management buyout of the former IEC International business that was supported by LCD display specialist Calibre UK. Nicholls said that the firm now intends to focus on supplying cabin-management systems for corporate and VIP aircraft, rather than the airline sector on which IEC formerly concentrated its efforts. Currently, he estimates the market for providing systems to corporate aircraft (up to the size of a Bombardier Global Express) as being worth approximately $60 million per year.

New UK Completions Group

Plans are now being laid to form a consortium of dedicated UK business aircraft completions/refurbishment specialists to offer one-stop service. In addition to IEC, this will likely include ATC Lasham (airframe work) and the Alan Mann group (avionics, engineering and design). The new partnership will likely be formally unveiled at the Dubai Air Show in December under the name UK Completions.

IEC’s product-support capability in the U.S. is led by San Jose, Calif.-based George Martin. This operation is supported by the former IEC subsidiary Global Avionics in Fort Worth, Texas.

In late July, IEC and St Louis, Mo. completions center Midcoast Aviation completed the installation of IEC cabin-management systems in General Electric’s seven-aircraft corporate fleet. The equipment has been fitted into GE’s three Challenger 604s, as well as its two Boeing Business Jets and a pair of Gulfstream IVs. The aircraft are owned and operated for GE through its GE Capital division.

The package for GE includes IEC’s new handheld remote controller, which allows the systems to be operated from anywhere in the cabin. The installation was also the first time an IEC cabin-management system has interfaced directly with a satellite TV system– supplied, in this case, by Honeywell. The GE aircraft also now feature new LCD cabin lighting, which has replaced conventional fluorescent lighting.

In the VIP-head-of-state market, IEC has supplied cabin-management systems for several BBJs and converted airliners. The company recently provided a system for the Ilyushin Il-96 used to transport Russian President Vladimir Putin.

For UK aviation training organization Cranfield Aerospace, IEC has just fitted a pair of Jetstream 41s with seat-back monitors. These display flight data during educational flights, with the instructor able to highlight key features during the sessions.