One big company is looking to add the ‘wow’ factor
Cabin Management Systems (CMS) may not make business jets go faster or make them that much greener, but by providing instant access to entertainment and internet connectivity, as well as giving the passenger control of the cabin environment, CMS plays a huge role in creating a real ‘wow’ factor for owners, operators and passengers. A jet’s CMS determines pretty directly how comfortable and pleasurable the user will find the flight. In that sense, although a CMS can’t make the jet go faster, it can certainly make the journey time appear shorter.
Honeywell’s Raghed Talih, Regional Sales Director, Middle East and North Africa, argues that CMS is to the passenger what the glass cockpit is to the pilot and co-pilot. It’s mission is to put all the user-controllable elements at the user’s disposal in the most convenient way possible. These days this generally means that the interface to the CMS will be via the user’s smart phone, tablet or iPad. Their ‘device of choice’ will interact wirelessly with everything from the automatic window shutters to the cabin entertainment system. Of course, the plane will still need wireless handheld controllers, just in case someone leaves their mobile at home, but these days ‘bring your own device’ is becoming standard. Letting passengers use the device they know and love is simply the obvious way to go.
Supplying complete turnkey CMS solutions is now big business and attracts both specialist component providers and mainstream aviation systems providers like Honeywell. For Talih, expanding CMS sales involves convincing jet manufacturers, operators and completion centres that Honeywell’s solution has a real edge over the competition. While building relationships with all three is important for growing sales, getting a manufacturer to opt to install a particular supplier’s CMS solution as standard on a particular line of jets has to be the Holy Grail. Instead of a one-off sale, winning a major contract with a manufacturer guarantees a significant number of orders stretching for years ahead. Honeywell has been selected as the CMS supplier for the Embraer Legacy 650 and each aircraft now rolls out the factory with Honeywell’s Ovation digital cabin fully installed.
As Talih explains, CMS solutions are made up of a number of components. A standard approach today is to use gigabit Ethernet as the backbone from the server and 100 megabit Base-T Ethernet to each of the end point devices, be these wireless communications nodes or high definition TV screens. The completions house or operator, or perhaps even the owner, will need to choose a satellite communications provider and that will be a separate contract on top of the CMS solution.
Just how fast things are moving in satellite connectivity can be seen from the fact that the two major providers, Inmarsat and Iridium, both have major new satellite launches rolling out over the next few years. The two providers take a very different approach to global coverage. Iridium achieves its global footprint by ringing the Earth with 66 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites at a height of around 485 miles (781 kilometers). Inmarsat has just three satellites but they are positioned in geosynchronous orbit over 22,000 miles (35,406 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface. Inmarsat’s satellites are positioned around the equator, while Iridium’s do pole-to-pole orbits. Starting in January 2013, Inmarsat is launching the first of three new satellites which will carry its Global Xpress Ka-band satellite service, with full global coverage available by late 2014.
Honeywell secured a major coup in October by signing a major deal with Inmarsat which makes Honeywell the exclusive wireless airtime reseller for Global Xpress aircraft connectivity services and the associated hardware for business jet aviation customers. This is a 5-year contract and Talih calls it a “game-changer” for Honeywell’s Ovation range.
CMS is to the passenger what the glass cockpit is to the pilot and co-pilot. It’s mission is to put all the user controllable elements at the user’s disposal in the most convenient way possible
Raghed Talih, Regional Sales Director, Middle East and North Africa
“Inmarsat’s Global Xpress service is going to provide much higher bandwidth and the higher the bandwidth you have, the more you can do in-flight. Live TV is still at the early stages, but this new service will add momentum to the growth and range of live broadcasts,” he says. It is not only business aviation that will benefit. Live TV is also going to be hugely attractive to commercial airlines and the increased bandwidth is going to be essential to make that kind of service viable. “If you have 300 passengers all making their own choices about which TV channel to watch, there is a tremendous demand on system bandwidth. This is the kind of thing that Global Xpress is going to make possible and we are very excited about it,” Talih considers.
Satcoms and CMS continue at present to be two independent systems, with many aircraft having satcoms without having an elaborate CMS system. So despite the fact that Honeywell has an exclusive contract with Inmarsat, completion centres and operators will still be free to chose CMS providers other than Honeywell, while using Honeywell as their satcom equipment provider and service provider. However, being in there from the start as the satcom provider will undoubtedly help to ensure that Honeywell at least gets some consideration as a potential CMS provider as well. It is an undoubted advantage and Honeywell intends to make the most of it. “Other parties will bid for their piece of a total cabin solution and will bring third parties into their proposals, but we have the advantage of being able to offer a potential client a one-stop-shop approach to both CMS and satcoms. That’s a big deal for us,” he notes.
Iridium is refreshing all 66 of its present constellation of satellites in what it calls its Iridium NEXT service. In the company’s words, “Iridium NEXT is a game-changing reality that will dramatically enhance our ability to meet rapidly expanding demand for global mobile communications on land, at sea and in the skies.” Launches are planned to take place from 2015, with completion by 2017. Among the new services Iridium NEXT will make available, one that will appeal to the general aviation sector is its Aireon service, a planned joint venture that will provide air navigation service providers with the ability to continuously track aircraft in near real time even in the most remote regions.
Satellite broadband services are still very much at a premium by comparison with terrestrial broadband services. However, as the satcoms systems evolve towards high-speed digital data, the cost of operations will come down. It will still be up to the operator, and probably ultimately up to the jet’s owner, to decide what level of usage they are willing to pay for, but this is a market that is well accustomed to evaluating time versus money trade offs. “These are VIP customers for whom time is money, and it is proving to be a necessity today for executives not to lose five or six hours out of the day during a long-haul flight. They need to stay abreast of what is going on, particularly if they are flying out for major contract discussions or to conclude an acquisition. With these considerations in mind, the price of satellite broadband is not particularly significant,” Talih notes. Nevertheless, if you are going to have unlimited broadband, with streaming movies or video conferencing in-flight, the cost is going to be steep by comparison with the land-based equivalent service.
As part of its CMS operations, Honeywell has created a program management team, with product specialists who become part of a completion centre’s operational staff during the fitting out, and who stay with the centre through to aircraft certification. Once the aircraft has been certified, the baton passes to Honeywell’s after-market support services, and this is a vital additional dimension to winning market share in the CMS space, Talih argues. “We definitely gain from having field service engineers and customer representatives globally, able to provide a comprehensive support infrastructure for our customer base,” he says.
The whole CMS space is fiercely competitive and fast-moving, and the technology is evolving at breakneck speed. Talih argues that this creates two major axes along which providers have to compete, technology being one, and after-market support being the second. “Completion centres will look carefully at a provider’s track record in both of these dimensions as key selection criteria. There is a lot of common technology shared among all the suppliers, such as using gigabit Ethernet for the backbone, but there are plenty of differentiators with the technology. We aim to provide the best quality for the customer while being very low weight and having a very small footprint for the completion centre. This makes us state of the art. As an operator you want the latest and greatest technology for your client, so that you get the wow-factor, but you also want it properly supported, so that any after-sales issues can be swiftly dealt with,” he says.
CMS solutions have many moving parts, as it were, and there can be follow up issues, so a comprehensive regional support network is critical. Operators do not want to have to fly their jets out of a region to get CMS issues fixed. “We have field service engineers trained on our CMS products and an extensive network of Honeywell certified service centres. There is a lot of pressure to minimise downtime and a broad-based support network is key to this,” Talih explains.
With so many of the components of a CMS solution evolving all the time, being open to new technology as it emerges is crucial. “People take it for granted now that they can use their iPad to get complete control of the cabin environment and the entertainment and communications systems, but in a short while there may well be some other device that they will be focused on. We have done a lot of research with major names in the technology sector, such as Apple, to ensure that we can evolve our system as the technology evolves,” Talih says.