Thales predicts that wireless in-flight entertainment systems will eventually gain a foothold in the airline market despite the late decision to drop the technology for the Boeing 787.

"We are not abandoning wireless, by far," says Sergio von Borries, Thales Aerospace vice-president business development and Boeing key account manager.

Von Borries says the decision to drop wireless IFE for the 787 followed concerns over whether sufficient numbers of processing chips could be made available in time to meet Boeing's ambitious schedule.

"There were many factors, but most of it was risk to the [787] programme," he says. Other issues included potential interference at the wireless system's 5GHz operating frequency, and delays in securing approvals from governments to use that frequency.

On future applications of wireless, Thales Aerospace North America chief executive Brad Foreman says: "For me, the question is what frequency range we end up in." Using ultra-wideband technology could be the solution, he adds.

"There are a number of possible answers. We're still doing some wireless testing - doing the ground work for the future, but it's not going on an aircraft anytime soon," says Foreman.

Thales is also studying the feasibility of introducing an airborne diagnostics capability to further improve reliability rates for its IFE systems.

"If you had the connectivity, you could do the diagnostics in-flight," says Foreman. "That's the future."

Thales plans to unveil its plans for offering in-cabin broadband connectivity at September's World Airline Entertainment Association convention in Toronto.

Thales is expected to provide internet connectivity for wireless laptops using Inmarsat's SwiftBroadband 432Kbit/s-per-channel service from the first quarter of next year.

The French company meanwhile expects to see rapid growth in the number of narrowbody airliners being equipped with in-flight entertainment systems.

"By 2010-12 anyone ordering an [Airbus] A320 or [Boeing] 737 is going to take in-seat IFE," says Foreman. "When an airline goes to in-seat video on a narrowbody, we've seen up to a 10% increase in load factor," he adds.

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Source: Flight International