AIN Blog: Technology at the Speed of Light, Or Pretty Darned Close

 - November 19, 2012, 6:00 AM
Lumin cabin management system
The new Lumin cabin management systems uses a combination of wireless and fiber-optic technologies to increase bandwidth to 80 gigabits per second, enough to allow each passenger to simultaneously access the Internet or view movies.

At this year’s NBAA convention in Orlando, new cabin technology was holding court, eliciting a chuckle from a day-one visitor who remarked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “This stuff will probably be outdated by the time the show ends.”

That might have been an exaggeration, but not by much. In the world of green cabin completion, designers, engineers and the owners begin spec’ing a cabin a year before a Boeing Business Jet, for example, actually rolls into the hangar where the cabin components will be installed. And even if all goes smoothly, it will be another eight to twelve months before the finished airplane is delivered to the owner, depending on the complexity of the project and any work-order changes. So it should come as no surprise if the technology originally called for in the cabin has been bypassed by new technology before customer delivery.

The iPad is a perfect example of how rapidly technology moves. The original hit the stores in March 2010 and exactly a year later, the iPad 2 replaced it. Since then, there has been a so-called iPad 3 upgrade and an iPad Mini and iPad Biggie, to be followed the iPad 4 now in stores.

The new iPhone 5 is a better example, and one that immediately impacted the business aviation industry. While a nifty upgrade of the iPhone 4, it has the new Lightning 8-pin connector rather than the common 30-pin connector, and is about one-inch wider and one inch taller. That means the iPhone 5 is not compatible with those iPhone 4 docks and chargers that the industry spent hundreds of thousands of dollars certifying.

That’s not to say that companies like Flight Display Systems and True North Avionics aren’t already frantically looking for a solution, preferably a wireless one that doesn’t require hardware. Flight Display expects an answer to the iPhone 5 dilemma, “maybe by next spring.”

TrueNorth says it has an app that will work with OiOS5 and iOS6 operating systems that define iPhone 5, but a company executive admitted, “We have yet to try it out ‘in the wild.’”

One completion center executive, who preferred to remain unidentified, described the situation when a client came to them about halfway through the completion cycle, demanding that the cabin management system already installed be pulled out and replaced with the same supplier’s new, upgraded system.

At NBAA, there was no shortage of new technology being introduced. Custom Control Concepts’ Spectrum Lighting now allows infinite lighting control in the cabin from Apple or Android. Rockwell Collins was promoting its Skybox, a system that permits up to 10 users to select and view television shows and movies from the audio/video on-demand library on personal devices. Satcom1 Flight Billing was introduced as a means to eliminate unplanned SwiftBroadband costs to the charter customer, and 3DVisualization Service had long lines at its exhibit to see the company’s immersive 3-D video system.

The industry is well aware that everyone wants the latest and greatest of whatever is out there and need is often a secondary consideration.

The industry is also equally aware that the latest and greatest today will be in tomorrow’s recycling bin in a blink. And it is constantly in a race to get the latest technology from the consumer market certified and available to the business and private industry market. But if you’re an owner or operator, don’t expect what shows up in Best Buy today to appear in the aircraft cabin tomorrow. And from what those in the cabin interiors business contend, that is unlikely to change.

As to a solution to keeping up with all the latest technology, I’m afraid all I can offer is the famous quote from Bette Davis in the film, All About Eve, when she advised, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”