March 23, 2021
By Ron Soret
Executive Vice President, King Aerospace Commercial Corporation
As a result of marketplace changes as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, business aviation has become an even clearer solution for safe, secure travel. Due to its growth, aircraft refurbishment for avionics and interiors, especially, has risen up as a means to elevate these assets to owners’ VVIP expectations.
Upgrading Your Office in the Sky
Inflight connectivity upgrades top the list of aircraft refurbishments. We’re seeing two modes of thought. One camp, albeit very small, views the cabin as a sanctuary from emails and video conferencing – a quiet space for reflection and rejuvenation before arriving at the destination. The vast majority, though, fully expect the cabin to function as robustly as their office. They will not accept any degradation of Wi-Fi speed. They want to cast from smartphones to bulkhead monitors and to stream movies and music. Cabin entertainment systems are among the most frequent passenger-generated interior upgrades now requested, including mobile apps that act as amenity control panels.
Customers navigate cost, coverage and capacity to determine the best Wi-Fi solutions for their aircraft – air-to-ground (ATG) or satellite. Gogo is the defacto go-to for ATG. Satellite connectivity providers primarily use Ka- and Ku-band solutions. We frequently outfit long-range aircraft with both ATG, for cost savings over the ground, and satellite for over water and areas with little to no ATG coverage. Ka-band, the newer satellite technology, offers greater bandwidth and higher performance and is offered by providers including Collins, Honeywell, JetConneX (JX), Satcom Direct (SD) and Viasat.
Passengers may pay less attention to upgrades happening in the cockpit, but they’re even more substantive. Here’s a high-level recap of key avionics we’re installing now.
- The future air navigation system (FANS) delivers direct data link communication between the cockpit and air traffic control, helping route aircraft into and out of airports.
- FANS-1A adds controller-pilot data link communication (CPDLC), reducing pilot workload and enabling pilots to read and respond to messages from air traffic control.
- Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) mandates within certain airspace kicked in at the beginning of 2020, forming the foundation for NextGen through the use of precise satellite-signal-based tracking. With it, cockpit displays show other aircraft in the sky, hazardous terrain, weather and other key flight information.
- ADS-B Out enables aircraft to broadcast their altitude, velocity, position and identification to ATC and other aircraft.
Customers who understand the benefits of these new technologies are scheduling these upgrades to be compliant and also to be active supporters of NextGen advancements.
New Means to Promote Health and Safety
Unless an aircraft is used exclusively by a few members of the same family, passengers don’t know who was previously in the cabin – touching things and simply breathing. Aircraft sanitization systems and air purification ionization units are not overly expensive and are becoming a customer requirement. Natural, passive-air ionization systems are among the solutions we like best. They inactivate 99% of germs and viruses without using harmful ozone or chemicals.
Design Choices with Big Returns
Most owners make conservative interior design choices, but any interior can start to feel dated as tastes shift over time. The latest trends in aircraft refurbishment are moving away from warmer golds and earth tones to cooler grays and whites with pops of black, similar to the automotive industry. Clean edges and angles create a fresh, modern aesthetic while providing a timeless quality. Long-lasting materials, such as stone veneers, leathers and luxury vinyl tile (LVT) stand up to wear and tear. Fabric overlays and hydrographics can quickly give a new look to everything from bulkheads to credenzas. Customers are liking the bold, high-tech look of lightweight, carbon-fiber composites for shelving, landings and more.
Replacing fluorescent with better, brighter LED lighting is easier on the eyes, generates less heat and delivers a more pleasing experience. LED accent lighting behind lavatory mirrors and for galley toe kicks soften an aircraft’s hard edges. Mobile apps that control lighting systems put the customer in greater control.
Only aircraft owners can truly decide when the time is right for them to upgrade and make improvements. But we’re seeing more owners opting to take action now. They know that in addition to creating a better user experience, aircraft refurbishment will increase its value when the time comes to sell or trade. It’s easier today to justify aircraft downtime to make these changes, too. Typically, an aircraft is simply too valuable to be taken out of service, so any updates get scheduled during major maintenance checks – say every eight to 10 years. Owners are now coming to us midcycle, noting that the urgency of the updates warrants the time grounded.