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NBAA 2008: High finance and high-definition

11th October 2008 - 01:00 GMT | by The Shephard News Team


TWO things were readily apparent from a walk round last week’s National Business Aviation Association exhibition in Orlando, Florida. Credit crunch or not, the business aviation community is still in a mood to buy, and the next big thing in the inflight entertainment and communications world is high-definition video.

No fewer than 31 financial and business services companies were listed in the show directory, with the Banc of America Leasing booth exceeding in size all but those of the major airframe manufacturers. Despite financial gloom and doom elsewhere, there is clearly plenty of credit available to purchasers of business aircraft and the interiors that go into them.

Among the cabin systems on offer, the major must-have this year is high-definition video and all that it entails in terms of source equipment, broadband delivery and screens. The two largest avionics providers, Rockwell Collins and Honeywell, had HD-capable cabin networks on show.

Collins announced that it was adding a new line of HD displays to its Venue offering, which was introduced last year. A 15in screen will be available from next April for Hawker Beechcraft’s luxury-cabin King Air 350i. The rest of the 16:9-format widescreen LCD units are due to be introduced in 12 months’ time and will range in size from 10.6in to 32in. They will work with both High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and High-Definition Serial Digital Interface (HD-SDI) inputs, as well as analogue inputs from applications still relying on standard-definition video.

Not to be outdone, rival Honeywell presented its new Ovation Select system to a steady stream of visitors, laying on a special early-morning demonstration for Inflight Online. Ovation Select combines Blu-Ray HD video capability with surround-sound audio and iPod/MP3 integration. It can also support Inmarsat and Iridium satellite connectivity, Honeywell’s JetMap II 3D moving-map and AIS 2000 satellite television, and XM radio, and allows passengers to control cabin environmental functions such as heating, lighting and window shades. All these capabilities can be operated via drink-rail-mounted Select 200 full-colour, icon-based passenger control units, a 10.4in touchscreen LCD or a wireless handheld remote.

Honeywell says the system is suitable for installation in the whle range of business aircraft, from the light end all the way up to air transport-category types. It is due to be commercially available by the end of next year.

The company also announced that it had teamed with Florida-based satcoms service provider Satcom Direct to offer aircraft operators a combined flight support and cabin communications service designed to eliminate the effort and cost of managing multiple contracts and suppliers. Functions covered include flight planning, air-to-ground data communications and satellite TV. Under the agreement Satcom Direct takes over the running of Honeywell’s existing OneLink (communications), OneView (TV) and JetMap II (moving-map and information) services.

Among a large international contingent of IFE suppliers at NBAA 2008 was France’s VisionSystems Aeronautics. Chief executive Carl Putman announced that its 3in drop-down video screen had been selected for the new HondaJet and revealed to Inflight Online that the company was planning to open a facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by the end of the year. VisionSystems specialises in compact IFE equipment - the HondaJet’s limited sightlines dictated the choice of a 3in screen - but is also making a name for itself with installations in regional aircraft.

Satellite communications providers were also well represented. Canada’s EMS Satcom introduced the new AMT-700 high-gain antenna. Building on the success of the first-generation AMT-50, which is currently flying on more than 1,400 aircraft, the lightweight, tail-mounted AMT-700 combines several new technologies to get the most out of Inmarsat’s 432kbit/sec SwiftBroadband service.

Most eyes remained fixed on the high-definition arena, however, where every cabin systems provider seemed to have at least one HD screen on show. Perhaps the most aggressive vendor of all was Atlanta-based Flight Display Systems, whose booth had a solid wall of devices ranging in size from 17in to 42in. President David Gray told Inflight Online that the devices were in full production and that he expected to capture a large portion of the business aviation retrofit market.

By Al Ditter, Orlando

The Shephard News Team


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