Rockwell Collins mulls in-seat IFE for single-aisle aircraft

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Rockwell Collins is considering making a re-entry into the in-seat in-flight entertainment (IFE) market with a new solution for single-aisle aircraft, ATI and Flightglobal can exclusively reveal.

During an interview this week Rockwell Collins director of cabin systems marketing Andrew Mohr said the firm is "looking at a couple options right now" for the single-aisle space.

The company currently offers drop-down IFE solution dPAVES to carriers. Bringing in-seat capabilities to dPAVES is just one option being mulled.

Mohr notes that Rockwell Collins' vast experience in providing IFE and connectivity solutions to the business jet market means that there is "a lot of in-house technology that could be very applicable to enhancing either in-seat or overhead [commercial IFE] so we don't have to go with a partner but there are also good partnering opportunities as well".

He stresses, however, that while single-aisle in-seat IFE "is definitely an area under consideration", there has been "no green light at this moment to go ahead".

Rockwell Collins could have "more news on that in the spring", adds Mohr.

A long-time IFE hardware supplier to commercial carriers Rockwell Collins' profile in the sector diminished considerably in 2006 when the company quite famously opted not to develop IFE systems for the Airbus A380 and later the Boeing 787.

This took the manufacturer out of the twin-aisle market, and effectively reduced competition for new aircraft models to a Panasonic Avionics and Thales duopoly.

Nonetheless, Rockwell Collins continues to support twin-aisle customers of its in-seat eTES and dTES embedded systems.

"We don't offer new twin-aisle IFE systems but we are still delivering some line-fit for previous commitments for Lufthansa. We are also getting requests to enhance the installed base and prolong the investments already made by customers of eTES and dTES," says Mohr.

One newly-announced "prolonging technology" now on offer to carriers with eTES and dTES systems is an integration feature that allows passengers to output audio and video to the in-seat displays and headphones from their Apple iPod or iPhone, as well as other portable media devices.

Mohr says Rockwell Collins - which offers a proprietary iPod cable approach to business jet operators - looked at doing the same for the commercial sector, but "the research we got back was a more generic approach was more favourable".

As a result, the firm has made eTES and dTES systems compatible with a standard Apple AV cable "and passengers can buy it anywhere, including the Apple kiosk, and that cable works at home or in the office", he says.

The company demonstrated the solution last week at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in Palm Springs, California.

Asked if Rockwell Collins intends to re-enter the twin-aisle market, Mohr says: "I would say that I agree there are some interesting changes going on in terms of architectures and in terms of the technology. We would not be getting back into traditional twin-aisle IFE whatsoever, but we are interested in some of the new technologies that would allow us to bring in-seat capabilities, at a minimum, to our dPAVES system, which is now only overhead."

Mohr stresses that, in the commercial arena, Rockwell Collins is "highly focused" on the single-aisle sector for its IFE solutions.