Stirring things up…

I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to Rome, where I was honored to have the opportunity to speak about one of my favorite topics – in-flight connectivity – at the ERA General Assembly (you can find my full presentation via this link).

As you can imagine, intra-European regional operators are not exactly chomping at the bit to add satellite-supported connectivity systems to their regional jets and turboprops at a starting cost of $500,000 (no, I’m not talking about your price tag, Iridium OpenPort).

But European regionals’ reluctance to retrofit underscores the need for airframers to offer connectivity as a linefit option. Airbus is the furthest along in this regard, as it offers L-band SwiftBroadband linefit on Airbus types, including the A320 family. Boeing is understood to be poised to do the same for the 737 (and for the 787 in 2012), and the US airframer recently confirmed it will offer Panasonic’s Ku-band system on its 777s .

Pertinent to the ERA crowd, however, Bombardier and Sukhoi have said connectivity is in their sights, and I’m hopeful after last week that ATR is giving it some thought as well.

If regional airframers take clear steps towards getting connected, and sparing regionals the huge cost of retrofits, it seems they may have a champion in ERA director general Mike Ambrose, who believes European operators will need to consider basic connectivity solutions within the next five years; and that cockpit applications may drive equipage.

   

Of course, in-flight connectivity is already shaking up the embedded in-flight entertainment space. But so too are new wireless IFE and seat-centric solutions. Indeed, a number of new offerings are giving the big dogs like Thales and Panasonic a run for their money.

US Airways scruffy.JPG

I’d imagine that the prevalence of clunky, legacy, server-based IFE systems and shabby interiors – as seen here on my US Airways flight to Rome – help IFE newcomers make a case to would-be airline customers (even though Thales and Panasonic now offer some terrific-looking new integrated IFE/seat systems).

One carrier making the switch to a new IFE  hardware provider (but keeping Recaro as its seat supplier) is Virgin America. A standard bearer in the IFE space, the San Francisco-based carrier announced last month at the APEX conference and exhibition in Seattle that it has chosen Lufthansa Systems as its partner in offering a hybrid ‘BoardConnect’ IFE and connectivity system – wireless plus seat-centric – to passengers.

The carrier also explained why it has moved away from its traditional Red platform, which was developed by Panasonic and CoKinetic. And yes, the carrier is even considering replacing currently-installed Red systems with the new solution.

Check out my videotaped interview below, and take note of what Lufthansa Systems says about seeking offerability for its system on Airbus A320 family aircraft, the type operated by Virgin America. Because just as connectivity gets a heck of a lot easier/less expensive when offered linefit, so too does IFE.

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