Rockwell Collins will tell you that it never really left the world of in-seat audio/video on demand (AVOD). And, quite technically, Rockwell Collins is right. The company's eTES and dTES in-flight entertainment systems are in operation on myriad aircraft in the world fleet, and the firm has continued to support these solutions for its customers.
But Rockwell Collins' decision in the middle of the last decade not to develop embedded IFE for the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380 programmes effectively diminished the firm's role as a major IFE contender, leaving Panasonic and Thales as the primo players on the field. And in the world of PR, perception is everything.
Fast-forward to today, and Rockwell Collins is planning a sort of comeback, at least in the world of in-seat IFE for single-aisle aircraft. The company will formally unveil a new client-centric (read seat-centric) IFE system for single-aisle aircraft this fall at the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX) expo in Seattle, after deciding a plan of action last year following market studies
This roving reporter managed to catch a glimpse of the new Rockwell Collins system at the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany. And here is what I can tell you.
Rockwell Collins sees its new, as-yet-unnamed seat-centric system as a continued maturation of its single-aisle product line, which today features the drop-down PAVES and digital dPAVES systems and now also boasts high-def quality. In essence, the company has opted to leverage the head-end to bring in an in-seat capability in order to offer a scalable solution to airlines.
All traditional entertainment content (videos, games, audio selections) is fully contained in each individual smart display, while live feeds such as moving map functionality or digital camera imagery, is handled by Rockwell Collins' traditional server. Content is background loaded through the head-end throughout the month. And it can be loaded in various ways - i.e. short content through USB, larger content through memory card approaches and large content through laptop applications, etc.
Unlike Panasonic and Thales, which have each based their next-generation IFE systems on the Android operating system, Rockwell Collins has selected an alternative OS that it sees as more reliable (hint, it's used in high-end automobiles). The seat-centric solution will be able to support connected apps. And the company envisions passengers being able to personalize their own content. It is also looking at different ways to enhance the personal device experience for passengers (i.e. providing content that is resident to the seat to various devices).
So how much will the system weigh and cost? Weight is expected to come in at south of 4lbs per seat all-in and Rockwell is targeting a 50%-70% reduction in costs from traditional single-aisle IFE.
As of a few weeks ago, Rockwell had not yet secured a customer for its new IFE system, but the company is working with a number of potential customers. In addition to providing the cabin management system for the Comac C919, Rockwell has garnered what is understood to be one of two selectable positions to provide IFE for the new narrowbody
(Thales grabbed the other one, while Panasonic has been picked for in-flight connectivity).
Rockwell has also opened up dialog with, and is receiving a favorable response from, Airbus and Boeing regarding linefit offerabilty on their single-aisle aircraft. It is also talking to Bombardier for the CSeries and Embraer (for whatever Embraer ultimately decides in the air transport category) as well as pursuing retrofit opportunities.
So will Rockwell make the leap from single-aisle to twin-aisles with its new product? Not as yet. The firm is laser-focused on the single-aisle market, and views its new seat-centric solution as the natural step in the evolution of that product. However, it is studying the feasibility of enabling the system for existing customers of eTES and dTES.
Rockwell is going through the brand naming process right now. And is in the midst of a seat integration project with B/E Aerospace's Pinnacle seat (the result of which was on display at #AIX11 at the B/E stand
). So we have yet another reason to look forward to APEX in September!