Qatar's IFEC deal with Thales gets 787 connected

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A sweeping new order from Qatar Airways for Thales' next generation TopSeries in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) system on up to 60 Boeing 787s shows a reborn willingness on the part of Boeing to facilitate connectivity on its aircraft.

Since the late 2006 demise of Boeing's Connexion in-flight connectivity unit, the US airframer has been understandably reticent to wrap its arms around cabin communications. "There is an entire generation of Boeing that don't want to hear about connectivity, and fear 'not Connexion by Boeing again'. But all the customers say they want connectivity," says OnAir chief executive Benoit Debains.

While Boeing continues to steer well clear of providing in-house solutions itself, the company is providing support to Qatar and Thales "to do what perhaps nobody has asked to do before the end of 2011," says Qatar management advisor Stephen Vella in reference to the airframer's efforts to make the Inmarsat SwiftBroadband-supported Thales IFEC system - which includes Airbus/SITA joint venture OnAir's mobile connectivity solution - line-fit offerable on the 787 around the time the carrier starts taking delivery of the twinjet.

Alan Pellegrini, head of Thales In-Flight Entertainment, says Thales is currently working with Boeing and Qatar to define the provisioning on the aircraft for connectivity, but notes that Thales is "running a few steps ahead of Boeing now".

Although Thales is "not 100%" certain that its new IFEC system will be line-fit offerable from day one, Pellegrini is confident they'll get there. "This [deal] is good because it forces the issue. It drives the issue," he says.

Inmarsat head of marketing aeronautical business Lars Ringertz notes: "There are a number of other people looking at implementing connectivity but it's great that someone comes out with this kind of announcement."

The TopSeries system, meanwhile, will feature the latest innovation from Thales, including a new passenger controller with multi-tasking capabilities that mirrors the look and feel of the graphical user interface of smartphones.

Economy class passengers on Qatar's 787s will be treated to 12.1in monitors, "the largest ever for economy", says Thales. The Pinnacle slim seats in economy represent a new IFE/seat design integration project between Thales and B/E Aerospace.