Kieran Daly/LONDON

GEC's in-flight entertainment (IFE) unit is paying a hefty price for system deficiencies. Launch customer United Airlines is to sue for alleged breach of contract, and it is unclear whether the system remains on Boeing's list of approved 777 equipment.

GEC-Marconi InFlight Systems (GMIS), based at Bellevue, Washington, says that it neither "confirms nor denies" whether it is still an "offerable" vendor on the Boeing 777, following a crackdown by the US aircraft manufacturer on IFE suppliers.

GMIS was originally Boeing's single preferred supplier on the 777, but has seen rival companies Hughes-Avicom International and Matsushita Avionics Systems being chosen by Boeing for its approved list of suppliers.

Although there is nothing to stop 777 customer airlines from using "unofferable" systems, airlines have been reluctant to select them in the light of Boeing's warning.

GMIS retains the United 777 business, along with that of other early 777 customers, British Airways and Emirates, and is selling a downgraded version of its system to Thai International and Japan Air System. It has, however, lost a series of subsequent contests. United adds that it will not be using GMIS on its 747s and 767s as originally planned.

Malaysian Airlines, Korean Airlines and Saudia have all rejected GMIS in favour of Matsushita in the last few weeks, and Singapore is believed to have done the same. South African Airways has yet to make its decision, but is understood to be considering only Matsushita and Hughes. For a single-aircraft trial on a 767, Scandinavian Airlines System narrowed the contenders down to only B/E Aerospace and Matsushita before also selecting the latter.

The GMIS system is intended to provide interactive services to passengers via seat-back video-screens. It now works as a "distributed" system, providing conventional films and programmes on the screens. The interactivity is not reliably functional, and neither United nor BA has tried to introduce its planned interactive services. United, which has taken ten of a planned 34 777s, also says that the on-board telephones are not integrated into the system.

Boeing introduced the "offerability" concept to address the continuing unreliability of numerous vendors' IFE products. Airlines may choose other vendors, but Boeing warns that carriers could face financial consequences if they ignore its advice and subsequently suffer from integration or in-service difficulties.

GMIS says that United owes it "substantial amounts [of money]" for use of the system "since last June" and declares that it will fight the case in the USA.

Source: Flight International