Avionics Technology: Cabin Entertainment Systems

Aircraft entertainment systems currently in use can do it all. They provide music, videos, games, Internet access, and even display aircraft facts such as altitude and position.

I can remember back as a kid flying on the airlines, the unusual noises, wonderful sights, and sensations associated with the motions of powered flight were an endless source of amusement. When the initial excitement wore off there was the colorful collection of switches and knobs within easy reach of the cabin seat and I found out at an early age, if you pushed the little button enough times that made the funny chiming noise the stewardess would almost always appear with crayons and an airplane coloring book or a deck of cards. As I grew older I noticed many of the adult passengers writing reports and letters or reading books and magazines. Being a male teenager in the 1960s, simply watching the stewardess was all the entertainment I needed. So why is it any different today?

The fundamentals of life

It is of course the media availability; cell phones, laptops, Ipods, and even DVDs are terms that have only in recent times become a trademark of life in this day and age.

Air travel today has changed significantly; we now transport hundreds of passengers thousands of miles. So how do you deprive all of these people of the fundamentals of life when they are commuting the 18 hours from Houston to Tokyo? The answer is simple, give them what they want! Aircraft entertainment systems currently in use can do it all.

They provide music, videos, games, Internet access, and even display aircraft facts such as altitude and position. Power ports can be installed in accessible locations to the passengers providing ample energy to use laptop computers along with other personal electronic equipment. Noise-canceling headsets block airplane noise while delivering audio with acoustic qualities on the level of the finest performance halls.


Lighting methods are a crucial part of passenger comfort and in some systems cabin lights are integrated within the same control network as audiovisual and even temperature control. Cabin reading lights can be finely tuned to meet the requirements of the most optically critical user.

Selecting and maintaining reading light systems can become quite challenging. Lamps are often broadly classified as spot and flood. Choosing an appropriate light involves more than just proper wattage, it can involve factoring in the primary target distance from the lamp, area of coverage and intensity, and in some cases diffusers are used to provide specific filtration of the light beam. One recent event involving scheduled replacement of reading lamps in a specific business aircraft revealed the original part number lamp was no longer available and the aircraft manufacturer suggested what it considered to be a suitable replacement. The technician noted the wattage stamped on the bulb housing was the same as the original and proceeded to install the recommended replacement.

During the operational test, it was noted that when more than two-thirds of the lamps were operating the circuit breaker would pop. It made no difference which lamps were turned on. Investigation soon revealed the wattage on the replacement lamp was for operation in a 24-volt circuit while the original was rated at 28 volts.

Music, news, and television

It used to be if you wanted to listen to music in an aircraft, you had to tune the Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) to the frequency of a local commercial broadcast AM radio station and then figure out how to couple it to the aircraft Public Address (PA) system.

Now music options are not so limited as many commercial stations are broadcast on a satellite network, compact discs and even audio cassettes can be obtained and transported easily. In the case of the commercial airlines on many flights of long duration, enormous audio files can be accessed through control panels available to each passenger and individual headsets eliminate the need for majority rule in deciding what type of music will be played.

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