INTERIORS: Collaboration rules under new aircraft cabin paradigm

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Last year in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) giant Panasonic Avionics unveiled the first-ever truly integrated IFEC/seat under partnership with Weber Aircraft and product development firm Teague, and promised that the design would prove revolutionary.

Fast forward to today and Panasonic's Integrated Smart Monitor (formerly known as Fusion) embedded into Weber's slimline seat has lived up to the hype. In addition to receiving numerous awards, and attracting Delta Air Lines as a launch customer, the product has helped pave the way for a sea change in how IFEC vendors and aircraft seat makers do business, with all parties working together on a standard solution for the cabin before an airline even places its aircraft order.

To wit, during the recent Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Thales unveiled its own integrated IFEC/seat project with B/E Aerospace for Qatar Airways and IFEC newcomer Lumexis displayed the result of a collaboration with Recaro for FlyDubai. Further examples of this deeper level of cooperation between IFEC players and aircraft interiors specialists will be on display this week at the Aircraft Interiors Expo Americas and the co-located Airline Passenger Experience Association conference and exhibition.

"I think there is a realization in the cabin/supplier landscape that there is a far greater need for a more integrated, more mature product and I believe what we'll see in the landscape - and we're certainly encouraging Airbus suppliers to do this - is to accept larger work packages and take on more integration responsibility and look at cabin components as modules such as seats already fitted with embedded IFE," says Jonathan Norris, vice-president cabin design office for Airbus.

"Technical maturity is required because airframers want to see more mature, more robust, more integrated products and clearly the airlines are expecting better products that are both on-time and on-spec. That is going to drive consolidation in the aircraft interiors industry because it is going to drive the entrance barrier into the market higher and higher. So the integration is being driven by several different factors and I think the consolidation in the industry is one of them. Quality in its broadest sense, the level of integration and the level of design language is now really being pushed to the front."

Other burning topics being mulled as AIX and APEX get kicked off in Long Beach, California, include the potential for Ka-band satellite-based in-flight connectivity to shake up the sector; the notion that lesser known interiors specialists may face an uphill battle in their bid to carve out niches in an industry increasingly dominated by a few behemoths; and whether portable IFEC will stay relevant in an Apple iPad world.

In the coming days, Flightglobal's crack team of journalists will cover all the latest news from the shows, both in the pages of this Flight Daily News magazine and online at a specially-designed landing page on www.flightglobal.com. Long after Long Beach is a memory, however, Flightglobal will continue to bring you hard-hitting stories about the aircraft cabin at its dedicated IFEC/interiors channel - www.flightglobal.com/IFE - and on its passenger experience-focused Runway Girl blog.

Flightglobal also recently launched a new dedicated interiors and IFEC e-newletter in partnership with the organisers of the Aircraft Interiors Expo. Sign up for your free copy at www.flightglobal.com/newsletters.