Panasonic Avionics is bringing to market an ambitious new product that seamlessly integrates lightweight, touch-screen in-flight entertainment and communications (IFEC) with an ultra-slim economy seat to produce what the manufacturer is calling the first truly cohesive IFEC seat design, Flightglobal can exclusively reveal.

Representing a collaborative effort between Panasonic, product development firm Teague and select seat manufacturers, including Weber Aircraft, the so-called Fusion integrated seat will be shown publicly for the first time when the annual World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) exhibition opens its doors on 6 October in Palm Springs, California.

"We've all thought about how to improve seats for years. Boeing and Airbus have tried to dictate standards, so we've said: 'let's get together and come up with an integrated solution that is as thin and light as possible'," Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis told Flightglobal during a private advance viewing of the integrated seat concept featuring Weber Aircraft's model 5751 lightweight, carbon fiber slim economy seat.

"The product represents the latest in IFEC seat innovation and integration and is a substantial advance in IFEC design as the in-seat video display and passenger seat have been built with each other in mind."

Panasonic is confident Fusion will deliver improved reliability, reduced cost, power and weight when compared to conventional IFEC solutions. Fusion's 7in or 9in monitors, for example, fit seamlessly inside the seat and are targeted to be about 50% lighter than current offerings, says Margis.

The monitors are also less complex with no extraneous peripherals or mechanical buttons.

Panasonic is touting Fusion's ease of use for passengers, noting that all passenger interfaces are in one location, and that the system features a capacitive touch interface like that of Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. Illuminated jacks and a credit card slot on the monitor are easy to find in all cabin lighting, says Panasonic.

Panasonic's Fusion platform is intended to occupy a market space between the company's high-performing eX2 and eFX platforms, says Margis.

On-screen navigation, flight attendant call, reading light control, audio jack, and USB port are incorporated into the monitor, eliminating the complexity of in-seat harnesses, and additional seat components. Panasonic's iPod connectivity solution, eXport, is an optional feature.

Significantly, Panasonic intends to harness in-flight communications to provide email and social networking functionality as part of its Fusion offering for services like Twitter and Facebook.

For airlines, the integrated seat also allows seat designers to create seat backs with reduced thickness, which in turn provides the ability to return that space to their passengers, or add additional seats, says Margis, noting that an airline "can do a minimum configuration because everything is on the seat-back, including the passenger control unit (PCU), which is normally found in the seat arm".

Margis notes that the shroud assembly is designed "to clip off easily" for quick maintenance and installation. Panasonic hopes to reduce unit replacement and installation to just two to three minutes per seat.

Fusion can be installed on widebody or narrowbody aircraft. Margis predicts Fusion "is going to be in airframer's catalogs", noting, for example, that it would be "quite suitable for Bombardier's CSeries" and other new-design aircraft.

In addition to its work on Fusion, Panasonic is collaborating with seat suppliers to better integrate all its products with existing seats.

"At this point, nothing is being excluded from consideration," says the firm.

Panasonic is targeting November 2010 for completed testing and availability of its integrated seat monitor. Panasonic says the seat's availability is contingent on final seat vendor arrangements.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news