Last year a project team at the ITT Institute of Design was tasked by Boeing to explore the future of in-flight entertainment (IFE), a space that the airframer "was interested in pursuing", says the group. After a 15-week period of research, the team concluded that the term "IFE" may no longer apply, and instead envision a system that would serve as an air travel experience platform.
"Unfortunately, Boeing's Connexion system, which provided high-speed Wi-Fi for $9.95 an hour or $26.95 for an entire flight, briefly debuted and then shut down in 2006 when the service was not commercially successful. Despite this recent failure, it's clear [that] Boeing is willing to experiment with IFE to enhance the customer experience. But currently, all of their IFE-related offerings are all focused on the in-flight experience ...
"But IFE's real potential lies in its ability to address additional stages of the experience. While in-flight is the portion of the trip that may be most relevant to Boeing currently, as an aircraft manufacturer, for passengers the in-flight experience is only one of several stages in their air travel experience. It's possible that, to truly enhance revenue and customer loyalty, the definition of in-flight entertainment needs to evolve. Imagine a technology-based system with touch-points throughout the travel experience that helps passengers stay connected, informed and entertained at the airport, at the gate and on the plane. Such system is well within Boeing's reach given its existing competencies and industry partnerships."
Check out the institute's entire presentation. There is some fascinating stuff in here.
Needless to say, this bit of news sent some of us in the social media world into a flutter, wondering if the driver behind Lufthansa's continental fleet overhaul is an increase in seat density (i.e. will Lufthansa offer a fixed recline like Air France and USA's Spirit Airlines?).
A Lufthansa spokesman assures, however, that Neue Europa Kabine is "definitely not a density initiative".
"Instead, we will come forward with an entirely new product for our intra-European and domestic routes, consisting of a new cabin design and layout, new modern seats, and an improved service concept (food and beverages). The personal space for passengers will remain unchanged, while seating comfort will improve."
LiveTV isn't wasting any time in bringing its new in-flight connectivity system - based on Iridium's fully-global Aero OpenPort service - to market. The JetBlue Airways subsidiary reports that it is now taking orders for the so-called Kiteline World product.
But in a world of high-speed Internet options (Aircell, Row 44, Panasonic), does the low-bandwidth Kiteline World service have any hope of making a dent?
LiveTV seems to think so. "We are pumped on Aero OpenPort. Our focus right now is the first flight later this year. The product has several markets that seem to fit very well," says LiveTV vice-president of sales and marketing Mike Moeller.
I wonder if JetBlue will launch the product. The carrier trialled LiveTV's original air-to-ground (ATG)-based Kiteline service on a single Airbus A320, but opted not to go fleet-wide.
Anyhow, here are Moeller's reasons for why adopting the new Iridium satellite-based service makes sense:
1) Aero Openport can act as augmentation (secondary antenna) for a Ku-band system - Aero OpenPort acts as a gap filler (lack of Ku-band coverage such as poles) and secondary route when the Ku-band antenna fails. No moving parts on OpenPort. Simple and low-cost terminal to add to any Ku-band system.
2) Aero Openport is standalone - For those airlines where email, text and messaging is what their customers need at a low cost. This gets them into the market for less than $100K for a full kit.
3) Aero Openport has great potential in the general aviation/corporate aircraft market - Huge potential here. Iridium already dominates voice services in this market.
4)Aero Openport has military applications - Just dream.
Spafax is driving change in the in-flight entertainment (IFE) content sector. Literally!
The company has launched a new IFE content provisioning and loading service with Air Canada that "closes the loop and gives Air Canada a single point of contact for all its in-flight entertainment deliverables", says Spafax executive vice-president media & publishing director Katrin Kopvillem.
"This will significantly improve the timely delivery of its industry leading monthly AVOD [audio/video on demand] content."
And yes, those snazzy Spafax trucks are helping to make this contract possible.
Content loading is handled by a number of different players in the airport environment. Some carriers use internal departments or their catering services, others use services provided by the hardware manufacturers, and there are also a number of companies specialized in IFE delivery. Many of them started when it was a tape based world and have now had to service the digital AVOD entertainment platforms.
"Air Canada previously used such a specialized company and we won the business through a competitive tender process," reveals Kopvillem.
Air Canada offers Thales IFE hardware on its aircraft.
Since the carrier signed for Spafax's new content loading service, "we've had success over our first 3 cycles delivering content to the entire Air Canada fleet not only within their delivery window but also exceeding their expectations and implementing efficiencies that have reduced the loading time on some aircraft types by 50%", she says.
But will other carriers follow Air Canada's lead?
Key quote from Spafax CEO Niall McBain:
"Spafax is all about the customer experience with IFE - from end to end - speed and accuracy of the operational delivery is an important part of the package. We're looking to replicate this service for other airline clients across their hardware platforms."
Kopvillem, meanwhile, says props are also due the Bullet Digital team "who we're working with on this co-venture and to the Spafax team who integrated this service into our systems and processes! It was a hectic few months and we all had a lot to learn, but, looking at the pictures attached, we've made quite an impression - now not only in the air, but on the ground as well!"
The proposed in-flight entertainment system "includes a plurality if media players that are installed at fixed locations within an aircraft cabin", says the abstract.
"Individual media players are provided with a dedicated media data storage device physically coupled to the media player such that a playing of specific media requires local access to that media content," it adds.
UPDATED to include comment from Airbus (see below).
US Airways' employee newsletter usually contains at least one or two juicy nuggets about the carrier that you won't find anywhere else. This week, the airline reveals that the locks on the overhead bins of recently-delivered Airbus narrowbodies do not latch well, leading to lots of door slamming by passengers. Upon landing, the bin latches vibrate and create noise that concerns customers.
For better or worse, US Airways is my hometown airline, and I fly the carrier regularly. On a recent trip, I saw first-hand that the latches were a problem. But in this instance, a passenger couldn't actually open the bin, and it held up the de-planing process by several precious minutes. The FAs, who came to the rescue, complained aloud that the latches have been a long-running problem.
So what is US Airways doing about it? As you'll see from the carrier's statement, the problem is not unique to US Airways. Indeed, it's a worldwide issue that Airbus is grappling with.
Says US Airways:
"We noticed this problem on new delivery single-aisle Airbus aircraft. We experienced a decrease in bin latch reliability and contacted Airbus to work through the details of modifying or creating a new latch design, as this is a problem with the fleet worldwide and is being managed by Airbus.
The first attempt by Airbus produced an unacceptable latch which was rejected by US [Airways]. We have evaluated the second redesign and are scheduled to receive a set of these newly designed bin latches next month.
These will be installed and field tested on one of our aircraft and if no problems develop, parts will be available to start retrofitting our fleet in the beginning of the first quarter 2011. The information about the noise being created from the bin latches is new information and will be evaluated during the trial test phase of this project to make sure this issue has been rectified as well."
Airbus admits some operators have reported in-service issues with A320 family aircraft overhead bin door latches. But the European airframer believes the problem stems from passengers' frequent over-loading of bins. It is probably no coincidence that the latch problem has surfaced at a time when more and more carriers are charging passengers for checked luggage, prompting passengers to carry bigger loads on board the aircraft. Interiors specialist FACC supplies the overhead bins for A320 family aircraft.
"Some operators have reported in-service issues with A320-family aircraft overhead bin door latches. Airbus, together with the bin supplier, has investigated the reasons for the reported latch issues. Airbus believes that the main root cause is the deformation of the overhead bin due to overloading, beyond the aircraft specification. Airbus therefore recommends operators not to overload the overhead bins.
Furthermore, Airbus has been in close contact with the affected operators and is already working on improvement scenarios. A latch modification will be tested for a 3-4 month period from end of July 2010. In parallel an overhead bin structural modification will be tested at the supplier. Based on the feedback from the in-service and structural tests, a design improvement is planned to be implemented in Q2 2011, for both retro-fit and line-fit embodiment."
I've just had one of my long-held suspicions confirmed. My Outlook is playing silly buggers (and probably has been for several months).
If you've tried to reach me via my work email address - and haven't received a response - please accept my apologies. Chances are very strong that your message didn't come through to me. I'll try to get to the bottom of the problem.
In the meantime, however, I'd greatly appreciate if you could CC one of my admittedly old-fashioned Yahoo email addresses - firstname.lastname@example.org (hey, what can I say? I still like Yahoo!)
Equipage of Southwest Airlines' fleet with Row 44's Ku-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity solution might not be happening as quickly as this Southwest frequent flyer would like (only one Boeing 737 is operating with the service), but it is happening, and this is the antenna that is playing a crucial role in that roll-out. Co-developed by Tecom and Qest, the KuStream 1000 supports Row 44's high-bandwidth service.
The American flying public has been enjoying Aircell's Gogo service for some time now, but I'm starting to see the occasional unhappy tweet about Gogo (I stress occasional, as most first timer users are overcome with the excitement of being able to tweet in-flight that they don't seem too terribly bothered by its limitations...yet).
Portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) provider e.Digital has scored a customer for its new touch-screen eVU handheld. SriLankan Airlines, which operates a mixture of Airbus A320s, A330s and A340s, will deploy the systems on various routes.
Here are the specs for the touch-screen eVU. That 20-hour battery life sure trumps the 10 hours offered on certain other would-be portable IFE units, ahem.
Virgin Atlantic and Panasonic Avionics last week announced a new partnership that will see the carrier fit its aircraft with new eX2 in-flight entertainment systems and eXPhone in-flight mobile connectivity (the connectivity hardware comes courtesy of Panasonic partner AeroMobile).
This is the video that Virgin and Panasonic showed to reporters at the press conference in Las Vegas. Virgin's Richard Branson
and Steve Ridgway give us a demo of the connectivity service.
Well, Thai A330s are still parked at Bordeaux, but the carrier's board of directors has agreed a plan to get them fitted with seats and into the air where they belong.
Thai has picked German firm ZIM Flugsitz as its supplier of economy-class seats for the A330s under various stipulations. A key provision will see ZIM work in parallel with Koito, which has until 20 September to confirm its commitment to Thai (scroll down for Thai's entire statement).
ZIM displayed its 'ECO-01' family of lightweight economy-class seats at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg.
Here is Thai's statement about its new seat strategy (note that ZIM will get Thai's 747 retrofit work if Koito can't make good on the A330 commitment):
The Board approved on the Supplier of economy class seats including the in-flight entertainment for the A330-300 (4th to 8th aircraft) and for retrofitting of B747-400 (7th -12th aircraft).
Zim Flugsitz GmbH is the selected Seat Supplier, replacing Koito which could not provide the seats for THAI in due time. Due to the seat delivery problem, it became necessary for THAI to find other seat suppliers in parallel with solving the KOITO seat problem.
THAI then set up a Procurement Committee to find a new Seat Supplier, upon which ZIM Flugsitz GmbH has met the technical requirement specified by the Committee. ZIM products have also received endorsements from various organizations, leading to the confidence that it can deliver the seats to THAI within the specified timeframe.
German-based ZIM Flugsitz GmbH provides quality products that meet TOR specifications the most. Therefore, when compared all details and all aspects, ZIM Flugsitz GmbH was selected to be the Supplier of economy class seat for THAI, with an offer for ZIM to work in parallel with KOITO who has until 20th Sep to confirm to THAI their commitment.
If KOITO cannot deliver the seat within the specified time frame, ZIM will deliver the seats to THAI within 8 months of receiving the LOI. This comes with condition that ZIM would be supplier for the retrofit project of B747-400 (7th-12th aircraft).
IAG's Addison Schonland has unveiled an amazing story about Tim Van Waard, the previous owner of @KLM on Twitter. Tim had a pretty quiet life until the 1 June crash of AF447.
"Within hours thousands of people were trying to get information. Air France, quite rightly, was saying nothing. But on Twitter, @KLM was linking to information and helping people get whatever news there was. The thing is, Tim was not and has never been employed by KLM. He did this all because it was the "right thing" to do. It was after the crash that KLM realized what Tim had created and done for them and their partner Air France. They asked him for the account and he handed it to them without asking for anything in return. The lessons for corporations the world over are clear: if you don't have your own brand name on social media, you better hope and pray that its in the hands of somebody like Tim. Chances are, of course, this is highly unlikely. This is a great story about how a decent man, who did the honorable thing for thousands of strangers, without any thought for compensation. We need more like him."
If you're still on the fence about whether or not to adopt a social media strategy - and own your Twitter handle! - listen to this (scroll down below the screen for 'Quiet Hero' segment.
It has been a Virgin sort of week. So much so that I'm nearly ready to reclaim my own virginity (not :)
Seriously, though, Virgin Atlantic's deal with Panasonic Avionics to bring in-flight connectivity to its fleet is interesting on a number of levels.
For starters, Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson and CEO Steve Ridgway have made clear that they want passengers to be able to experience in the air what they experience on the ground, and they are letting Panasonic - and the firm's AeroMobile partner - deal with the particulars.
Those particulars include working with airframers on making the solution line-fit offerable (AeroMobile and Panasonic have been trying for years and they are hopeful in achieving this goal), and on deciding if Ku-band or Ka-band-based connectivity will ultimately be fitted to Virgin's aircraft.
Initially, however, Panasonic is tasked with bringing Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) systems, together with AeroMobile in-flight mobile connectivity, to Virgin Atlantic passengers in the near-term (first the carrier's new Airbus A330s, then the Boeing 747s and then the new Boeing 787 twinjets).
Branson notes that road warriors could accomplish several more hours of work during flight if they had high-speed Internet at their beck and call. Just serve up that connectivity with a nice, cold drink, okay? And no Virgin strawberry daiquiris, please!
And what type of system is that? A fully connected one! Virgin America calls the project 'Cabin 2.0'.
Key quote from Virgin America president and CEO David Cush:
"We know we want a significant upgrade in hardware, and significant upgrades in bandwidth, and by 2012, or more likely 2013, we'd [like] wider monitors on the airplane, with more functional handheld remotes and keyboards, faster processors, and faster Internet that is integrated into the system from inception, so it really becomes about the capabilities of the platform."
Cush's quote begs all sorts of questions, so read on for my exclusive Q&A with him.
Q You plan to add a connected element via the Aircell Gogo link to your current in-flight entertainment system (with limited social media and real-time credit card transactions). Will Gogo be able to keep pace with your bandwidth demands in the coming years, as you look ahead to both a next generation system and at passenger requirements for in-flight connectivity? A The simple fact is we are going to need greater bandwidth, faster speeds of uploads in particular, but also downloads, and somehow they are going to have to keep pace with the technology. Three or four years from now, having the speeds we have today, will not be sufficient. The web is getting more and more video intensive and we are going to have to figure out a way to have a bigger pipe and a faster pipe in the next few years. I am confident Gogo will find a solution but if they don't we'll go somewhere else."
Q Has your current system paid for itself yet? A These systems are long-term investments. They should stay on the airplane as long as 12 years, although we think the hardware life cycle is probably half of that or perhaps a little less. They pay for themselves in a couple of ways. One is that the preference factor for our airline and quality rating for our airline is very high. Certainly the Red system is one of the most visible reasons for that. We have been slow to successfully monetize the system, but we have a lot of momentum now [with the roll-out of new functionality, including The Red Store]. Certainly, the systems in my view have more than paid for themselves. That's why we're looking into what we call 'Cabin 2.0' and we will invest more money in the system and we will do that as it will have greater capabilities and more opportunities to monetize. We would not invest more if we didn't think it was paying off for us now.
Q How much ancillary revenue do you gain from your current system? A We do track that by flight and we analyze it quite heavily, but we don't disclose those numbers. The ancillary revenue for passengers is [overall] up 40% year-over-year, and we're expecting that type of growth going forward when we add more functionality. "
Q How responsive was hardware manufacturer Panasonic Avionics and software specialist CoKinetic when you said you wanted to upgrade your current system by adding SkyMall shopping, more detailed Google terrain maps, and other new functionality? A In general they are responsive. Panasonic is interested in our business and knows we are growing and wants to sell us more IFE equipment going forward. CoKinetic is a small company that is responsive to our desires in general. That being said, this is complicated stuff. It's on an airplane, 35,000ft above the earth and none of it is simple, and I'll be completely blunt, even putting in something like shopping took us something like six months longer than we hoped it to. We're used to rapid speed to market, that doesn't always happen with these big complicated IFE systems, and the software it takes to drive them.
Q What do you think of the argument that passengers' own devices coupled with in-flight connectivity will destroy embedded IFE? A That is like saying the Internet is the death knell of cable television. We think people want the option for having entertainment dished up to them and letting them make the choice. [The questions to ask are] 'Who owns the transactions? Who owns those customers? And ultimately, who owns those eyeballs.' We've had lots of interesting discussions with the leading thinkers in the San Francisco Bay Area, with Google and with others, on how they view the entertainment and information going forward. People have been saying this for five years [that embedded IFE won't survive]...and it has never gone anywhere. We're a big believer in seat-backs."
Q Will Virgin America ever extend its service beyond the Americas? A We're starting with Canada in a couple of weeks. That's kind of dipping our toe into it, as it gives us a good feel for the complexities [of international service], and even though Canada is very similar to the US, there are important complexities involving immigration, taxes and customs. But other than Canada and probably Mexico in the next six to nine months, that's pretty much it. We have lots of opportunities here in the united States, certainly in North America, and I would not see us doing too much beyond that. We have Virgin Atlantic doing a great job across the Atlantic and V Australia doing great across the Pacific
Connecting with passengers "on a lifestyle subject they're passionate about" is the driver behind LAN's launch of a new in-flight magazine all about wine.
The publication, in-Wines, is now available to all passengers flying LAN's premium business class, inserted into the carrier's unique cork-lined wine list, and is a first of its kind in South America.
LAN senior manager, in-flight entertainment and media products Violeta Garcia says that the magazine "gives us the opportunity to reinforce our credibility as 'wine connoisseurs' and shows passengers that we care about the entire customer experience, on and off the plane".
So will special-interest in-flight magazines help ensure that paper products still have a future onboard aircraft in this highly-connected world? If the early advertising figures tell us anything, the answer seems to be "yes".
Spafax, which publishes LAN's award-winning in magazine has positioned the new in-Wines magazine "as a high-end international publication".
"in-Wines is already a huge hit with readers and advertisers - with over 20 major brands buying space in the first edition." says Spafax Interactive president Raymond Girard.
"It's one of many special interest publications we have planned for the market and fits nicely within LAN's family of highly sophisticated media offerings such as in magazine - winner of more international awards than any other magazine in the region."
On the chance that you missed this video from AIX, here is my interview with Thales VP media services Stuart Dunleavy on why the firm's next generation in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system is so special.
Personally, I like that Thales will forgo the usual credit card swipe, and instead will offer a new credit card insert, which "takes into account chip and pin technology...which we see as a very important emerging technology", says Dunleavy. Oh yeah, and that 12.1in screen with HD and touchscreen handheld is sweet too.
To view this video, click PLAY to the right of the screen.
As reported on the Flightglobal IFEC channel and the Wandering Aramean blog, Continental Airlines has opted to postpone its trial of Aircell's Gogo in-flight Internet system on 21 Boeing 757-300s, as it thrashes out strategy with merger partner United Airlines.
So is the deal dead, RWG?
Not quite. Aircell tells me that its agreement with Continental for the 757-300 fleet "remains in place", but that Continental "has, in effect, 'hit the Pause button' as they work through the merger-integration planning process".
United already operates Gogo on a portion of its 757-200 fleet. So it makes perfect sense that Continental and United are looking at fleet rationalization before deciding on a consistent in-flight service for their merged operation. In other words, I don't think it's time to pick apart Continental's decision to postpone Gogo...yet.
It is logical to assume, however, that Continental and United are studying all their options for domestic fleet-wide equipage (I mean they've got to do something, since Delta Air Lines is nearly fleet-wide with Gogo, and Southwest Airlines has begun equipping its Boeing 737s with Row 44's satellite-based system).
And, even as it hits "pause" on Wi-Fi, Continental is pushing ahead with equipage of LiveTV's LTV3 system across its Boeing domestic fleet. As of 8 June, Continental had completed 51% of the installations.
As you can see, the LiveTV guys down in Melbourne, Florida have been busy, but they'd be even busier if the merged Continental/United opted for LTV3.
And who's to say the two carriers won't do both Gogo and LTV3? If they want to truly duplicate in the air what's happening on the ground (iPhone or laptop sitting on our laps while we watch TV), they could do it.
We talk a lot about passenger comfort on this blog, but we haven't yet looked at what the poor sods up front are dealing with. And when I say up front, I don't mean the privileged folks in premium class. I'm talking about the pilots.
Graduate student Nicoline van der Vaart, in a fascinating report about redesigning the cockpit seat, notes that pilots (in this case, KLM pilots) suffer with a lot of back pain due to uncomfortable seats, and that this leads to a high rate of absenteeism.
What does van der Vaart recommend? Check out her presentation below. Note slide 36 (shown above), where the highly-interactive Nintendo Wii-fit plays a role.
I was doing a bit of research on YouTube when I came across a familiar face. Why it's none other than Flight International editor Murdo Morrison and he's talking about in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors! Specifically, Morrison says he believes it will be a "pivotal year" for the cabin. Oh yeah. I can see that. How about you?
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and social media go hand-in-hand. And indeed, we're already seeing evidence that major IFEC players Panasonic Avionics and Thales are bringing social media apps to their platforms. Panasonic's SeatTweet app, which I had a chance to try at AIX in Hamburg, is particularly clever. Here's the tweet I sent from a Panasonic IFEC system:
Airlines are wrapping their arms around social media and with good reason - it is now an essential marketing tool. It reaches loads of people (and indeed is becoming part of our daily lives), and, oh yeah, it's FREE (okay, you do need at least one warm body and ideally a social media strategy).
The carriers that understand how to harness the power of in-flight connectivity together with social media - I'm looking at you Lufthansa and your MySkyStatus - will be leaders in this industry.
So with all this attention being paid to the benefits of connected IFEC with social media apps, surely the major players in the field - Panasonic, Thales and other IFEC stakeholders - are participating, right? Wrong!
The Thales Group has a Twitter stream, but it pushes out tweets about everything going on within the group (space, defense, everything!) and really only uses the service as another public relations outlet...i.e. There is no back-and-forth conversation.
Sadly, Thales doesn't even own its own Twitter handle. Instead this person does. We call this a social media #Fail on Twitter. The Thales Group does have a FaceBook page, which is a little bit more dynamic but still very general.
Panasonic promises that it will be actively tweeting soon (see below), but again it doesn't appear to have a dedicated Twitter handle for IFEC. Another social media #Fail in my humble opinion. Its FaceBook page is also very general.
Both firms - and frankly all IFEC companies - should also be looking at building an IFEC presence on YouTube. Who better to showcase the latest and greatest IFEC systems coming to market - and the latest and greatest content - than the providers? Then we journos will take that info and push it to our growing networks. Yes, airlines brand your systems, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be telling the world about what you do (hey, even Boeing is jumping into social media!)
Someone asked me today (on Twitter): "Will social media really help Panasonic or Thales win an RFP contract because they're more social?" Fair question. Here's my answer: "It can't freaking hurt!"
Indeed the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) - which is rebranding as the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) - is even starting to get more social, with the launch of the Passenger Choice Awards (it should be touting these awards on Twitter and FaceBook!)
Meanwhile, I can't wait for the day when I'll be able to tweet: Panasonic and Thales - IFEC social media #Success.
On an aside, I'm curious as to why the IFEC press hasn't jumped into the social media arena either. If you stay out of social media (or merely lurk in the shadows), you'll let others dominate a conversation that you're likely best equipped to lead (The same argument can be made for Thales and Panasonic and other IFEC players.)
Perhaps you think the real thought leaders in our industry aren't using Twitter. I can tell you that they are. Sure, some IFEC executives prefer to stay in the background, but these and others are becoming increasingly vocal.
Collectively, this industry has a tremendous opportunity to use social media to get the word out about how IFEC plays a crucial role in the passenger experience (and I assure that the passenger experience is one of the most popular topics on Twitter).
If nothing else, would you please jump on Twitter and help me dispel the myth that the iPad is going to kill embedded IFEC? My God, that could be a job in and of itself.
So, what do you say? Will you join me?
Here is what people are saying about the in-flight experience now.
Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir has appointed Ian Dawkins as chief executive, effective 15 June, RWG can exclusively reveal. According to his latest LinkedIn profile, Dawkins currently works as Airbus' head of future programmes. The photo of Dawkins above was taken at a 2008 project management conference.
Current OnAir CEO Benoit Debains joined the JV over three years ago. He played a key role in OnAir's success, and leaves the Geneva-headquartered firm on the heels of signing a big contract - at AIX in Hamburg - to fit Emirates' Airbus A380s with OnAir in-flight connectivity.
On a personal note, I'm going to miss Benoit, who has always shown a real zest for this industry (and provided this RWG with colorful quotes). I wish him well as he heads back to Toulouse with his family.
B/E Aerospace's integration project with Thales is really quite something. But don't just take my word for it. Here is what B/E Aerospace's Alex Pozzi says about integrating Thales' next gen in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system into the firm's Pinnacle economy-class seat. The solution will be offered on Qatar's 787s.
It has been a busy few weeks for this RWG with back-to-back-to-back trips on both sides of the pond. Along the way, I've picked up various bits of IFEC/aircraft interiors news that I'd like to share with you. (This meal is probably best served with German beer, but please no more sausage for the love of God and all that is holy!!)
Let's get this party started...
Lest you think the contrary, Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir is very open to providing Ku-band satellite-based connectivity to current and new customers should they want it. The company is bringing Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported connectivity to Qatar's Boeing 787s, and "if one day Qatar wants Ku, then we'll give them Ku", OnAir chief executive Benoit Debains told me at AIX. "We are totally scalable and adaptable. Today, I believe the airlines will first want to see what they can do with the [SwiftBroadband] antenna. They can always add a second antenna and we can adapt to this link."
So is OnAir open to partnerships with Ku providers, such as Row 44? "Of course," says Benoit, who swung by the Row 44 stand at AIX to discuss a meeting between the two companies (great timing!). Says Benoit: "90% of the technology we bring is independent from the aircraft to ground link. If it's Inmarsat, good. If it's Ku, we can adapt even if we don't manage the satellite link. We could be ATG (air-to-ground), Ka-band, or WXYZ." Oh Benoit, you kidder.
While OnAir's connectivity deal with Qatar - and its as-yet-unannounced deal with Emirates for the A380 - are significant, rival AeroMobile and partner Panasonic Avionics are also working on a number of very big announcements, after confirming the Air New Zealand deal last week. Let's just say they involve Boeing long-range aircraft. Also, Lufthansa is gearing up to shortly launch Panasonic/AeroMobile-provided high-speed Internet and mobile service on overseas flights.
Speaking of in-flight connectivity, my hometown airline, US Airways, has clarified just how far the Gogo service extends beyond US borders - exactly 100 miles. Here's the message I received in my inbox yesterday.
It's no wonder, then, that Canadian operator WestJet this week said during an earnings conference call it is still in the early stages of studying in-flight connectivity - yes still! - because the infrastructure isn't in place to support Wi-Fi. (How long will Air Canada have to wait for fleet-wide roll-out of Gogo? And what about a satellite-based solution, WestJet?)
Knowing a thing or two about Ku-band satellites is Row 44, which is confident it will secure more business in the United States (outside of its massive Southwest Airlines deal). Row 44 head of business development Frederick St Amour tells RWG: "There are domestic US and non-US carriers that see, and are becoming ever more aware of, the dramatic advantage that increased bandwidth [provides]."
But what about Ka-band-based connectivity, Frederick? Does Row 44 have any interest in that? "Ka-band is interesting at this point, but it is not crucial," he says, noting, however, that Ka may be practical for antenna makers in "three to five years".
One of those antenna makers, EMS Technologies, believes the technical problems surrounding Ka-band connectivity - such as the current geographical limitations and so-called "rain fade" - can be overcome, making passenger communications much more affordable.
EMS Technologies vice-president of strategy and innovation Gary Hebb broke out his crystal ball and gave an excellent presentation on the matter at the recent WAEA (now APEX) single focus workshop on connectivity in Los Angeles. Read his presentation here (it also includes insight on the 60 Ghz unlicensed band for wireless in-flight entertainment). EMS Aviation -- WAEA SFW on Connectivity -- Networks.ppt
Another antenna maker, Aerosat, sees great potential for the Ka market, and reveals it is developing an upgrade for its Ku-band antenna. "I would say that the trend in interest in Ka is up. You'd have to be [living] under a rock to not recognize that," Aerosat vice-president of business development Bill McNary tells me.
One could reasonably argue that antenna makers might like to see serious Ku-band connectivity take-up in the commercial sector before shouting about the benefits of a better Ka-band business model. But it seems that even our L-band friends at Inmarsat may be eyeing up Ka like donuts in a shop window.
Here is a key par from consultant consultant Tim Farrar's recent report on Ka activity:
Inmarsat's future satellite plans According to recent press reports, Inmarsat is "exploring a range of options for its next-generation global satellite system, including advanced L-band, Ka-band and other frequencies" and sent out a Request For Information to satellite manufacturers in late 2009 to evaluate possible alternatives for a fifth generation Inmarsat system. Though this process could in theory take quite a long time before any satellite order was even placed, it appears Inmarsat is moving forward very quickly to make a decision. We now expect Inmarsat to make an announcement of a multi-satellite contract at the investor day this summer, when it has promised to provide five year revenue growth targets (2011-15) and will presumably have to set expectations for capex over that period as well.
But enough about satellites. Let's talk about interiors, specifically integrated IFEC/seats. During a pre-AIX interview with RWG, Boeing regional director passenger satisfaction and revenue Kent Craver said:
"Based on what we're seeing, there is definitely strong interest from the industry for these more highly integrated product offerings. I've been around the industry for quite some time, and there has always been talk of a greater need for in-flight entertainment and seat suppliers to work closer together. I think you're seeing the industry respond positively. My guess is we're going to see additional integration between suppliers and seat manufacturers."
Attendees at AIX saw examples of the integrated IFEC/seats coming to market, including the B/E Aerospace Pinnacle economy-class seat with Thales IFEC (one word - beautiful), which will be offered on Qatar's 787s. Will the aircraft need to be retrofitted with the solution? Let's hope not. Thales, Boeing and OnAir are all working to try to get this line-fit.
Also at AIX, we saw the Lumexis fiber-optics-based system integrated with Recaro's BL 3510 seat, which will be offered on FlyDubai's 737s; and the Panasonic Integrated Smart Monitor ("Smart") on Weber and Recaro seats, which have already been ordered by a number of undisclosed customers.
You'll recall that Teague - Boeing's not-so-secret design weapon - aided Panasonic and Weber in developing the original, award-winning Smart IFEC/seat, seen here:
Separately, Teague has been working with Boeing from concept through delivery on the 787 cabin "to define and deliver an unprecedented passenger experience". But what are 787 customers requesting in terms of configuration for the twinjet? Here's what Boeing recently told me on camera about that (an all-business 787? nice!):
Now imagine what you could do in the cabin of a Blended Wing Body aircraft, if it sees the light of day. That's just what Aerospace International did in its May issue. Key pars from the magazine's 'Space Invaders' feature:
Innovation is not relegated to the long-haul (and futuristic) market, however. During the recent Regional Airline Association (RAA) convention in Milwaukee, Mitsubishi revealed that it is developing a premium-class seat for its MRJ regional jet. Delta Kogyo is already providing the economy-class seat. Japan has not made a commercial aircraft in decades. Consequently, for the MRJ to receive FAA certification, the agency will have to perform a shadow certification to ensure that the Japan civil aviation bureau's processes are on par with FAA standards. (I wonder if the Koito aircraft seat debacle will make the FAA throw a bit of extra oversight into the mix.)
Also at RAA, ATR touted its new Series 600 turboprops' cabin improvements, which enhance the feeling of space and comfort (and can give you a bit of drop-down IFE to boot).
I'm guessing this cabin feels spacious providing the airline customer doesn't pick the 29in pitch layout. Ouch!
According to digEcor, they do. But digEcor is a portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) provider RWG, you cry.
Fair enough, but the survey is still most certainly worth a read, as it takes a good look at what passengers actually want to watch. Also be sure to read digEcor's take on the survey in its "key findings" piece.
While Jetstar used to rent digEcor's digEplayer portable IFE units to passengers, it no longer does so. DigEcor says today that it hasn't supplied Jetstar in several years, and that Irish firm Airvod is the current provider. Meanwhile, there is a really interesting back story to the Jetstar/BlueBox deal, and Airfax has the skinny.
The Australian low-fares airline - understood to be a customer of Airvod - in a statement says the trial will begin later this month on selected domestic routes across Australia.
It says the iPads will provide IFE with movies, TV programs, eBooks, music videos, games and CDs. Jetstar passengers can pay $10 to rent the iPad on board.
Specific details about content are not immediately available. However, the trial is being carried out under partnership with Stellar Inflight, which specializes in film and television programming/licensing.
Key quote from Jetstar CEO Bruce Buchanan:
"We are really excited to commence the trial of the iPads, as we're always looking for ways to enhance our customer's Jetstar experience. Given the demand for the iPad so far, I anticipate it will have strong appeal amongst our passengers. In addition to offering low fares, great customer service and more choice, it's important that we can provide the latest in innovative technology to entertain our customers on board.Based on demand for the iPads as part of the trial, we'll be looking to roll out the devices across our entire domestic and international network later in the year."
So Jetstar is mulling rolling out the devices on its entire domestic and international network? Well that's rather huge. Jetstar's fleet consists of Airbus A320s, A321s and A330s. The carrier also holds an order for 15 787s. A bit of in-flight connectivity would go nicely with this deal, eh?