Thales's vision for a wireless onboard entertainment and connectivity solution ideally suited to short-haul flying came a step closer to reality at APEX, with the revelation that Chile's LAN will begin a six-month trial of its Ava system by the end of the year.
Ava effectively gives the aircraft - an Airbus A320 for the LAN trial - a wireless hotspot capable of streaming video, movies, interactive flight mapping and other content directly to passengers' personal devices, such as laptops or smartphones. Passengers can also have internet access in the air through Ava.
While Thales sees the system as a supplement to traditional, embedded in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems, Ava does away with the need for embedded systems. Alan Pellegrini, chief executive of Thales's Irvine, California-based IFE and connectivity division, sees the system as a niche application ideally suited for single-aisle aircraft operating short sectors, because it frees the airline of the need "to invest in a whole plane's worth of seatback components."
LAN Airlines travel experience director Fernanda Toro says the trial represents a recognition that a changing technical landscape is opening the door to wireless IFE, because so many passengers today carry their own media devices.
LAN will also be trialling another new concept from Thales, GateSync, which is a fixed installation at airports - Santiago for the LAN trial - capable of sending fresh media content to an aircraft during its on-ground turnaround. The wireless transmission system replaces what Thales refers to as the "sneakernet" - that is, an employee running to the aircraft with a memory drive.
The goal is to provide, for example, new television news programmes for viewing over the Ava system on personal devices. GateSync would also be a way of providing information for the crew during turnaround.
The LAN trial is hoped to shed some light on the critical issue of so-called digital rights management (DRM). Critically, Ava is a streaming system and does not download any content to passenger devices - an important consideration for movie studios which are reluctant to release films into environments where they may be at risk of piracy.
However, to access Ava during the LAN trial a passenger using an Android or Windows device or an Apple laptop must visit a landing page and download a DRM app before streaming protected content such as films. For Apple iPads and iPhones, however, that app would have to be downloaded from the iTunes store before boarding, so LAN will be looking at ways to communicate this requirement to passengers.
Pellegrini adds that while historically about 80% of IFE hardware is line-fit during aircraft final assembly, the retrofit percentage is expected to increase, because airlines should see connectivity solutions such as Ava as "easy" retrofit options, to improve the attractiveness of their aircraft.