Andrew Muirhead, v-p of Lufthansa Technik's (LHT) Original Equipment Innovation (OEI) group, recalls the night in 2001 when his team’s journey began. “We were trying to fix an issue, and a thought occurred to us: We spend all of our time fixing systems built by other people. What if we would build the systems ourselves?” LHT (Booth H71) is marking a milestone in that journey at EBACE 2019: the delivery in March of the 1,000th nice in-flight entertainment (IFE) and cabin management system (CMS), which Muirhead invented.
The world’s first certified, fully digital business jet IFE system, according to the Hamburg-based MRO and interiors specialist, nice became OEI's launch product. Aimed at the business and commercial markets, and based on a custom IFE the team created at LHT’s completion center for a VIP aircraft, the prototype also incorporated touchscreen seat and IFE controllers developed for a major airline, along with other enhancements.
With EASA Part-21G Productions Organizations Approvals, LHT had the necessary licenses to make the system and the team had the know-how, but the infrastructure to produce and deliver it was completely lacking. Muirhead tackled the obstacle head on. “I put together a business plan for an Innovation business unit,” he said. “We established a start-up within the bounds of the Lufthansa Technik organization—and set out to do things differently.”
OEI assembled a purpose-built team and structure. “We created optimized processes to drive innovation, built workspaces to support our working methods and interactions, and developed long-term customer relationships,” Muirhead said.
Bombardier’s in-production Challenger 300 was the business aviation launch platform, with LHT’s nice shipset deliveries commencing in 2006. Bombardier subsequently selected nice for the Challenger 350, Challenger 650, Learjet 70/75, and ultra-long-range Global models. In 2017 Embraer selected nice as standard aboard its new Phenom 300E.
A modular, highly flexible and integrated Ethernet (IP) based system, nice manages video, audio, lighting, Internet connectivity, and other cabin entertainment and environmental functions on new and retrofit business and VIP aircraft of all sizes. Continually updated, today nice HD enables streaming of high-definition content and wireless linking of smartphones and tablets to the system. The latest generation, the fiber-optic-network-based nice Touch, was developed for Bombardier’s Global 7500, which entered service in December, and includes a 4K display option, OLED touch dial controls, and the latest hi-fi speaker and sound system. An advanced 4K/HDR distribution system currently in development is slated for service entry in 2021.
The systems are also installed on more than two dozen VIP airliners, sales handled through LHT’s Idair subsidiary.
“At every stage of the evolution of nice, we have worked passionately to refine our technology and deliver a better product for the discerning passenger. Nice isn’t just a range of products—It is a team of inspired people,” said Muirhead. “We are not just engineers and software developers, but also psychologists, social scientists, and industrial designers. Our strength lies in our diversity and broad range of expertise.”
Quality remains a foundational element. No nice shipset leaves OEI without testing the interaction of all components, including pre-loading the system-specific software, and a 24-hour operational test period in accordance with the individual customer’s specifications.
But even quality products may require servicing. To guarantee support for their customers over the longer term, OEI experts monitor the market and stock industrial components for installation in the nice units. “The effort required is considerable, but it means that even today we can still supply replacement parts for the earliest nice systems,” said Torben Uhl, head of manufacturing services.
A special IT system provides support for data analytics, stocking and archiving as well as the digital signature on certificates. At least one nice shipset will leave the Lufthansa base in Hamburg every second day this year on its way for installation in a business jet somewhere in the world. Meanwhile, the streamlined production organization ensures OEI can guarantee large volumes and on-time deliveries to manufacturers’ production lines.
Today OEI has a staff of some 270. The innovation building at LHT’s Hamburg base, home to the product division since 2009, also houses a lab for vibration, temperature, power input, and electromechanical tests, in addition to the development department, and work on tomorrow’s innovations continues. A new test chamber for loudspeakers is in development, while production processes are undergoing automation, such as a semiautomated test systems to test all thinkable functional scenarios.
Other OEI products include a patient transport unit for business aircraft, with digital controls that can configure the unit for the flight profile and needs of each patient; its highly configurable carbon fiber-aluminum seating system initially aimed at the VIP market; and DishwashAir, a light-weight, highly efficient galley dishwasher.
OEI has also developed lighting and escape marking systems, seating, radomes, software and many other aircraft components. Contemplating the journey ahead Muirhead said, “I am certain that we have an exciting future ahead of us with many more innovative products to come.”