INTERIORS: Virgin America selects Lufthansa Systems BoardConnect

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In a move that is certain to generate a big buzz in the in-flight entertainment and connectivity space, Virgin America has selected Lufthansa Systems' new BoardConnect platform for the next iteration of its Red IFEC platform.

A long-time customer of an award-winning Panasonic Avionics embedded audio/video on demand system, and an IFEC standard-bearer in the industry, Virgin America's decision to offer BoardConnect means the firm is moving in a different direction with Red. The carrier reasoned that "most current IFE solutions are complex and hard-wired, making them expensive to purchase and install, difficult to maintain and often inflexible in use".

A hybrid platform, which will stream content to passengers' own devices as well as to embedded seat-centric screens, the new BoardConnect-based Red IFEC system is slated for launch in late 2012.

Back-end testing of the new system by the technical experts at Virgin America and Lufthansa Systems is already underway on one aircraft, N841VA, aka Virgin America's #nerdbird plane.

The system "will give travellers a variety of ways to play, interact, connect and be entertained at 35,000ft - similar to the multi-faceted consumer technologies they have access to in their lives on the ground", said Virgin America. It will offer "a larger, high-definition touch-screen seatback monitor with full wi-fi connectivity and a breadth of curated content unrivalled in the skies, along with the ability for flyers to use their own personal electronic devices to connect to the system pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight.

"The idea behind Red has always been to reinvent the flight experience, by offering travelers more options, more control, more content and more interactivity. Even though we believe that Red has raised the bar and is still head and shoulders above anything else in the US skies, we're not the kind of company that rests on our laurels," said David Cush, president and CEO of Virgin America.

"Our focus on innovation is a core part of our business model and guest offering, and BoardConnect will allow us to not only leap even further ahead of the airline pack, but also pace the larger consumer trends in mobile technology. We now have the architecture we need to design a dynamic entertainment experience that is the next logical iteration of Red."

Virgin America currently operates a fleet of 40 Airbus A320 aircraft. The fleet is projected to grow to 57 by mid-2013. The carrier is in talks with Airbus to ultimately have BoardConnect linefit to new A320s, but it is looking to retrofit the product in the interim.

"BoardConnect gives airlines an unprecedented degree of flexibility to develop new entertainment applications as well as to create new sources of ancillary revenue," said Lufthansa Systems executive board chairman and CEO Stefan Hansen.