Emma Kelly/LONDON

Rockwell Collins has formed a joint venture with media giant News Corporation in the latest stage of the avionics manufacturer's continuing move towards providing equipment and services for the passenger cabin.

The partners' In Flight Network (IFN) joint venture is designed to provide airline passengers with the latest in-flight entertainment (IFE) must-haves - global in-flight live television, Internet access and e-mail services - along with standard recorded video and audio programming.

The joint venture will bring together Rockwell Collins' IFE hardware, satellite communication, avionics and systems integration expertise with News Corp's programming content, satellite and broadcasting experience.

According to the partners, IFN will be the first global IFE network to offer live coverage of news, sports and entertainment, in addition to recorded audio/video programming and broadband Internet access, with services to be available from late next year. The satellite-based, broadband digital communications network will support multiple video channels, with programming tailored to the length of flight, destination and airline, says Rockwell Collins.

IFN hopes to announce airline customers "in the next few months" and aims for flight trials from early 2001, with revenue service before the end of that year, says John Cohn, Rockwell International senior vice-president marketing and communications.

The joint venture will exploit Rockwell Collins' Integrated Information System (I²S) developments, which are bringing PC-like computing capability to aircraft, linking aircraft and ground-based operations through technologies such as wireless gatelink, offering flightcrew, cabin crew, maintenance and passenger applications.


German charter airline Condor is conducting a year-long trial of I²S on its Airbus A320s, but passenger IFE and communication services are not part of this. Rockwell Collins also has an I²S agreement with Condor parent Lufthansa, however, which could be a candidate for passenger services.

The joint venture will also make use of Rockwell Collins' experience in delivering live-broadcast satellite television to aircraft. Hughes-Avicom International, which Rockwell bought in 1997 to form Rockwell Collins Passenger Systems, pioneered the service in a one-aircraft trial with Delta Air Lines in 1996. The service never progressed with airlines, however, partly due to their requirement for a global service and licensing and business case issues.

Although other companies are offering airlines live broadcast satellite services in the USA, only the BAE Systems Canada (formerly Canadian Marconi)-led AirTV consortium has concrete plans for a global service for airlines, with a late 2002 launch. IFN's business case for airlines is based on advertiser-supported services.

IFN is part of Rockwell Collins' strategy to broaden its input on aircraft, says Cohn. The first stage was the acquisition of Hughes-Avicom. News Corp's senior vice-president Jeff Wales will head the new company as chief executive. Rockwell Collins will provide the chief financial officer and programme management team.

Source: Flight International