Aircraft: Playing Nice

<< Back to Robb Report, January 2004
  • Fluto Shinzawa

The philosophy at Lufthansa Technik, the German company that customizes interiors of wide-body jets, is that the airplane is an extension of the home. “They have fantastic audio equipment at home,” Lufthansa Technik Chairman August Henningsen says of his clients. “When they come to the plane, they want the same top-notch technology. That’s why we are committed to moving technology forward and not disappointing our customers.”

 

Lufthansa Technik’s latest product, a wireless central cabin management system available for installation in wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing Business Jet and Airbus ACJ, ensures that owners of exceptional home theaters can now enjoy airborne equivalents. Lufthansa Technik’s Network Integrated Cabin Equipment (NICE) system manages cabin functions including lighting, flight attendant requests, phone calls, and entertainment options through a digital Ethernet network, placing all control literally in the hands of the plane’s passengers.

Aboard aircraft with older entertainment equipment, passengers must walk to a CD player located in a cabinet, for example, and place a disc in the system. Conversely, NICE eliminates any need to leave your seat. The heart of the system is a 10-inch wireless LCD display that docks into each seat of the airplane. With several taps on the display’s touch screen, you can select a movie to watch (on the LCD display or on a larger bulkhead plasma display), create personalized MP3 libraries (you can plug headphones into the device), access the Internet, and even order a cocktail. “There was nothing out there that met customer requirements,” says Andrew Muirhead, manager of Lufthansa Technik’s innovative engineering division. “We could either push others to develop something or do it ourselves. That’s what led to this.”

If NICE is installed on a fractional provider’s aircraft, each share owner can customize the system to reflect his or her entertainment preferences; each display is equipped with a USB port that enables passengers to transfer selected movies or songs into the system before each flight. The interface is linked to the crew members’ pagers, so with a few touches, a passenger can request a pillow and a glass of wine. Because the display is wireless, you can remove the device from its docking station and carry it to the bathroom—while still listening to a favorite CD—and punch in a request, ensuring, for instance, that a hot towel is waiting when you return to your seat.

To ensure superior quality, Lufthansa Technik can assemble sound and video systems that complement NICE’s offerings. The company can eliminate all traditional speakers (except for a subwoofer) and replace them with panel speakers. Lufthansa Technik installs four transducers on the back of each cabin panel, so what appears to be a normal panel is actually a speaker. “Speakers should be heard and not seen,” says Muirhead. “It’s a different experience. The brain is not aware of where the sound is coming from.” The result is a surround-sound experience just like the one you enjoy while watching a movie at home.

Lufthansa Technik, +49.40.5070.5553, www.lufthansa-technik.com

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