There was a time when a state-of-the-art aircraft In-Flight Entertainment system was a Lear Jet Stereo Eight Track tape player, and the best Cabin Management System was an overhead reading light and fan.

While today’s owners have many more options, it may surprise you to know that the entertainment system in your car is probably better than that in your aircraft.

If you are ready to upgrade your Cabin Management System, upgrade from an In-Flight Entertainment System (IFE) to a Cabin Management System (CMS), or simply upgrade your IFE, it’s important to understand the difference.

The IFE System usually is comprised of monitors, a sound system, and an input device, such as DVD, Blu-ray, or Satellite Television. The CMS is an integrated control system which has all IFE elements, and also allows you to regulate other in-cabin systems, such as lighting, temperature, and window shades. Some aircraft are equipped only with an IFE, while others have a CMS. So what are your upgrade options?

  • Upgrade the IFE — You may wish to include a HD monitor or a Blu-ray player for better onscreen display. This option is significantly less expensive than upgrading or installing an entire CMS, as most IFE Systems use commercial equipment, like a big box store DVD player. However, those less-expensive systems may not integrate well with more complete CMS systems, nor will they meet all of the aircraft-installed equipment regulatory requirements.
  • Upgrade the CMS — If your system is older, you may not be able to find parts. If you upgrade to a new digital system, be prepared to purchase a top-of-the-line system, as anything less may not offer a discernable difference.
  • Install a new CMS — While the most costly because of the certification requirements, this option has the advantage of being the most responsive to your specific needs and wants.

When preparing to refurbish or improve your aircraft’s systems, before soliciting any vendor RFPs, first determine your needs:

  • Virtual Office Capability — Can you connect to the world just as if you were behind your desk? Can you connect with ground stations as well as with satellites, and do you need to do so? Is the system compatible with Euro ISDN protocols (if you or your guests bring on European computers and equipment)? Will you print or store documents? Must the system be completely secure from cyber threats? Do you want Wi-Fi connectivity and seamless phone calling? Currently there are two options for onboard Wi-Fi:  GoGoBiz (formerly AirCell) for U.S.-only coverage, and Swift Broadband/Inmarset for coverage worldwide. A third option, SmartSky, recently announced that it will offer 4G connectivity worldwide at near-ground-based speeds later this year.
  • Entertainment — Will the system connect to outside entertainment like Satellite TV or will it all be internal? Do you want the system to be controlled by a smart phone or other intelligent device? Will it have moving maps or ticker-tape news?  Do you want to be able to connect other devices such as iPad, laptop, or phone for video or music? Do you want to store movies onboard and get automatic updates?
  • Cabin Control – Should the CMS control the shades, dim the lights, adjust the temperature, and control the seats? Does the controller have a touchscreen interface? Can the flight attendant make adjustments at the Galley Controller?

If you are considering upgrades to either your IFE system or CMS, the three keys to success are: selecting a reputable and technically- experienced installation facility, determining your needs, and precisely communicating those requirements to the facility. These will help insure that they “get it right the first time,” critical with the newest computer-based systems. When chosen, set up, and installed correctly, your system will respond to your every command. BAA

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