Astronics expects to benefit from integrated IFEC/seat boon

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Astronics expects to see its EmPower in-seat power system business grow in the narrowbody market as major in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) manufacturers increasingly attract customers for their new integrated IFEC/slim seats.

"The primary in-flight entertainment providers, which are Panasonic [Avionics] and Thales, have been looking at narrowbody solutions for their in-flight entertainment that is more [an] in-seat situation, and we are power providers to both those companies. So we will see an uptick in the narrowbody [market] in the future but we're not seeing that this year," said Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems executive vice-president Mark Peabody during an earnings conference call to report a 24.2% rise in fiscal second quarter net income to $2.4 million.

Astronics president and CEO Peter Gundermann noted that the integrated IFEC/seats represent "an interesting prospect" for the firm.

Delta last week emerged as the first publicised customer for an award-winning integrated IFEC/seat from Panasonic Avionics and Weber Aircraft. While the carrier is bringing the economy-class seat to its Boeing 747s, and some 767s, it is also understood to have earmarked some MD-90 narrowbodies for retrofit with the product.

Panasonic Avionics has secured several other customers for the so-called Integrated Smart Monitor solution (formerly known as Fusion), and is working with B/E Aerospace and Recaro to meet the needs of customers.

When Panasonic Avionics launched the product last year, company executive director of corporate sales and marketing Neil James explained: "What we're trying to do here is start off with the ideal scenario, everybody's parameters taken into account. Even in the tightest seat pitch, we want to be able to give as much space back to the passenger as humanly possible.

"We want to be able to have great industrial design so it looks like the in-flight entertainment was always intended to be part of the seat as opposed to bolted onto the seat. We want to make sure that when the seat is fully reclined and in their tightest pitch, the passenger still has a great viewing angle, and a great in-flight entertainment experience."

Thales, meanwhile, is in the midst of various IFEC/seat integration projects with major seat manufacturers. Qatar Airways is among Thales' launch customers.

Astronics' Gundermann says he is generally pleased with how the aerospace market is holding up in light of the current difficult economic climate.

"From an OEM perspective, narrow-bodied production continues to be strong, so strong that new entrants are being drawn into it. Widebody prospects are strong given the 787 coming online soon and the demand for the [Airbus] A350 looks to be pretty strong. The [Airbus] A380 is getting some of the bugs worked out and getting into production, and we expect, as a supplier, to contribute and participate in those production runs," he says.

The business jet world, meanwhile, is relatively stable for Astronics. "It's not healthy necessarily. There's still a glut of used airplanes and those are dragging down prices for new airplanes, which is hurting the manufacturers. But from our perspective, revenue is at least staying flat in that segment. I think that as the global economy strengthens those airplanes will do well," says Gundermann.

"The military is the military; it is atypical and continuing along on its own little trajectory. With all that being said, we are well-positioned across-the-board with a product mix which offers more value than what we had some time ago and much more than what we had five years ago."

He adds: "I feel a whole lot better than a year ago this time. I think probably everybody in the aerospace industry does, and I think the pieces are in place for some good stability as we go forward, and good growth."