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Rockwell Collins poised for Sony Trans Com takeover

Emma Kelly/LONDON

Rockwell Collins is believed to be finalising the purchase of in-flight entertainment (IFE) hardware and content provider Sony Trans Com, as it targets the narrowbody market in the latest round of consolidation in the IFE hardware industry.

Rockwell Collins was expected to announce the purchase at the recent In-flight Passenger Entertainment and Communication (IPEC) conference in London, but the deal was not confirmed, prompting rumours that the acquisition had been slowed by the Rockwell Collins board.

Rockwell already has an IFE system manufacturing division - Rockwell Collins Passenger Systems - formed from the purchase of Hughes-Avicom International in 1997.

The takeover of Sony's IFE division would further its aim of dominating IFE system supply to narrowbody aircraft.

Rockwell Collins' Total Entertainment System (TES), inherited from Hughes-Avicom, is well-established in the widebody market, with carriers including Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines and Japan Air Lines. It was recently ordered by Qantas and Scandinavian Airlines.

But Rockwell has failed to make its mark in single-aisle IFE provision, while Sony is well-established in this market with Paves.

Despite the order list, TES has failed to meet expectations, with BA in particular struggling with reliability problems. Sony's equivalent system, P@ssport, is flying - and popular - with South African Airways and Air Canada, offering audio- and video-on-demand, a capability that Rockwell Collins has yet to field. Sony's third customer, US Airways, has just taken delivery of its first P@ssport-equipped Airbus A330-300.

The purchase of Sony Trans Com would cause problems for Rockwell Collins in terms of supporting two widebody interactive IFE systems, which Rockwell would have to do because of the scale of TES orders.

Rockwell Collins and Sony will not comment on the possible acquisition, but sources say talks have been going on for some time and the process has reached the legal contract stage, with some contractual issues still open.

Sony Trans Com is the only one of the four major IFE hardware manufacturers not aligned with an avionics supplier. Lead manufacturer Matsushita has an alliance with Honeywell, while Sextant purchased the former B/E Aerospace IFE division to form Sextant In-Flight Systems.

The Sony unit was courted by AlliedSignal, which conducted a process of due diligence, but the deal collapsed following its merger with Honeywell.

Industry sources say Rockwell Collins approached the Sony division before AlliedSignal showed an interest, but Sony initially favoured AlliedSignal.