The Aircraft Cabin Systems story is a classic Marketing 101 textbook example of finding a need and filling it. It begins with corporate aircraft and the requirements of its occupants. As more executives, entertainers, and heads of state travel in private or business aircraft, demand for a higher level of entertainment and communication services (driven largely by ground experiences) has forced a natural cabin evolution. Newer technology and larger screen displays are a matter of course for the average business jet today. That has not always been the case.
More to the point, there has been a quiet revolution in large screen in-flight entertainment equipment on almost all types of aircraft. Not only have there been hardware improvements that deliver better entertainment solutions, those improvements have come with more stringent and demanding technical requirements. Airlines, OEM aircraft manufacturers and MRO (completion houses) have sought to meet the commercial aircraft specifications outlined in the FAA certification guidelines of RTCA DO-160 with items like large screen displays. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the electronics inside them, these large displays are inherently noisy. As a result of design and size they are good at generating electromagnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). The elimination of this noise and interference is what Aircraft Cabin Systems is all about!
The ACS beginning in 1999 was chronicled at the end of a brilliant career at Matsushita Electric Industries (Panasonic) by Mr. Yukio Sugimoto, its current CEO and President. Determining that retirement was not for him, Mr. Sugimoto saw a coming need for larger in-flight video displays, however, he also saw that the existing consumer devices did not meet the demanding needs dictated by an airborne environment. Everything from electronic noise, to vibration, to head-strike stood in the way. He saw a business aviation future that demanded larger displays and realized that competing technologies like cathode ray tubes (CRT) and LCD projectors were only an interim solution. After analyzing the problem, he set about to establish a value-added organization that developed custom designs around existing displays. Consequently, the displays contain the ACS designed, “quieter” power supplies, safer front surfaces, 16 G survivable mounting attachments, special sweep circuits, and a non-glare coating trademarked as CrystalTint ®.
For a small company, finding a successful business solution often means understanding customer problems and adapting operating procedures to solve the problem and still operate in your comfort zone. Vice President of Operations, Bill Baltra, an 8-year veteran of the 10-year-old company, noted that ACS growth has been a combination of many factors that operate around their skill set and comfort zone. “We certainly were in the right place at the right time and Yukio saw the growth of this market correctly; we made some good decisions along the way too. For instance, we chose to focus our in-house strength on getting FAA Parts Manufacturing Authority (PMA) rather than be tied to aircraft certification STC’s. We support our dealers; OEM’s and private operators, by letting them obtain the STC’s and support their efforts. We are not STC collectors – we want people to get the advantage of our displays. We built a Parts Manufacturing Authority (PMA) around our displays for them.” In other words, the company has focused on designing and building the best large screen displays possible. For the most part, ACS leaves the installation to the people who deal directly with the airplane. They attempt to remain totally aware of the installation and integration of their products on the airplane in order to provide the best support possible.
Another feature that sets ACS apart from other small hardware houses (Under $10 million) is their costly participation in trade shows like Aircraft Interiors, World Airline Entertainment Association, and National Business Aircraft Association in places from Hamburg to Hong Kong. The company sees a bigger role for their products in the commercial aviation market and wants to be seen with the biggest and the best – they are quietly confident of their future. If anything is true about in-flight entertainment it is the patterns set by products used in homes and offices will drive the market to embrace those same types of products in the air. This has always has been true for commercial aviation as well.
Today, ACS serves some 67 worldwide customers with 14 different LCD Display products varying in size from 10.4 inches to an amazing 52 inches. Their displays are found on 27 aircraft types, the biggest of which, is the Boeing B747-400. It is no wonder these value-added products have made ACS the market leader in big screens. They offer less weight, lower power consumption, better viewing angles, greater reliability, improved picture quality, and anti-glare coating CrystalTint®. All ACS LCD monitors 24 inch and up have been designed to be HD ready. With a proper HD video source, these monitors will display beautiful High Definition video.
Aviation in general has gone thru a rough patch in the last year; however, ACS reports they have only seen growth. “There has really been no slump in the display business for ACS as our markets are roughly evenly distributed between Government, Business and Commercial Aviation,” said Baltra. As the product line and screen size grew, success with the bizjet market was followed by airline interest. For that matter, airlines have lately opted for larger screen displays for bulkhead and upper class viewing as reliability and high maintenance cycles have doomed existing projection video and those heavy CRT’s as well.
Unprecedented growth has required ACS to bring on more support personnel to service their growing list of customers. To this end, ACS has recently moved into new offices at 18080 NE 68th St, Building B, Redmond, WA 98052. “Our new facility has over 10,000 feet of floor space, almost 100 % more than our previous location,” Baltra said. “It will allow us to add an Engineering Lab, Test Area, and increase space for additional support staff. We are understandingly quite proud of our products and the ACS team we have assembled. With the new space and staff we can deliver even more large screen enjoyment to fliers worldwide!"
There are still challenges and opportunities the company noted. “Our challenge,” said Mr. Sugimoto, “is to manage our growth while keeping our existing customers happy; after all, we did not get this far with unhappy ones.”