IFE, seat makers poised for new level of collaboration

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Major airframers, seat manufacturers and in-flight entertainment (IFE) suppliers on 17 May will gather for a workshop at Airbus' Hamburg facilities to discuss the integration of next generation IFE systems into seat design and ideas for improving industry standardisation, in what could pave the way for a new level of collaboration in the aircraft cabin.

Sponsored by Airbus, the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) single focus workshop on seats and IFE has been scheduled to coincide with the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, which runs 18-20 May.

It is being held at a time when the WAEA is moving to rebrand as the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) group to broaden its scope and reflect an evolution in the industry that sees IFE providers working more closely with aircraft interiors specialists to improve the passenger experience.

"The real focus of the workshop is on collaboration and on getting these two groups, IFE and seat manufacturers, to work more closely together," says WAEA technology committee member Jonathan Norris, who works as vice-president, cabin design office at Airbus.

"We see it as a great opportunity to explore, across the industry, how we can work more effectively together in a number of areas - one is standardisation, another is IFE/seat integration and the third is on having an industry standard for seat comfort."

With regard IFE/seat integration, one of the emerging topics to be explored at the workshop will be Panasonic Avionics' work to merge high-end IFE and slimline seating. Thales and others are also working on integrated IFE/seat designs.

"The integration design of seating and IFE has improved considerably over the years and recently there has been a tentative push to enhance working partnerships," says WAEA president Patrick Brannelly. "The WAEA believes that facilitating a workshop with this kind of interaction, in a public forum, could potentially generate a turning point in seat/IFE integration."

On the issue of measuring seat comfort, Airbus is keen to work with Boeing to define an industry standard. "Seat comfort is very personal. It depends on your shape, size and weight. It's quite subjective. The difficulty has always been - how do you assess seat comfort in a consistent way across different seat types? It's something we would like to see in the industry," says Norris.

He adds: "Clearly when you look at lightweight, shrunk economy-class seats, the real trick is going to be in taking the weight out without compromising on seat comfort. If you want to put a lightweight seat on a long-haul flight lasting 14 hours, it needs to be comfortable."

Presentations and panel discussions at the workshop will involve many of the major players in the industry, including Airbus and Boeing, seat makers Recaro and Zodiac units Weber Aircraft and Sicma, as well as IFE giants Panasonic and Thales, among others. So far, the workshop has attracted a lengthy list of registrants, says Norris.