Virgin Atlantic plans to bring in-flight mobile connectivity to passengers, including voice calls, as part of a new partnership with Panasonic that will see the airline equip its new Airbus A330-300 fleet with the manufacturer's eX2 in-flight entertainment system and eXPhone mobile communications solution.

The long-term agreement, which could be worth more than $70 million to Panasonic, also outlines a strategy for the in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) giant to provide full connectivity on board future Virgin Atlantic aircraft.

A key feature of the new eX2 in-flight entertainment system will allow passengers to rate the films and read comments and critiques from leading film critics. Passengers will also be able to view interviews with the cast and directors and create a play list for the flight using the 'save for later' functions.

Premium economy and 'Upper Class' passengers will be able to plug in a variety of their mobile devices to play music, videos, pictures and documents on the seat-back screen. Passengers in all classes will be able to plug a USB in to view their own content. Live news updates, destination videos and an interactive map are also available.

The eXPhone offering, brought to Virgin courtesy of Panasonic partner AeroMobile, will enable passengers "to make phone calls and send and receive texts and emails using their own mobile devices on board", says Virgin Atlantic.

The A330s will be retrofit with eXPhone after deliveries begin in February, as Panasonic/Aeromobile have not yet received linefit status for the solution on Airbus' current long-range aircraft. They continue to work towards procuring linefit offerability with Airbus, and recently made some gains by receiving offerability on the A350, which will enter service in 2013.

Virgin Atlantic claims the distinction of being the first airline to offer individual seat-back in-flight entertainment systems for all passengers almost 20 years ago. "I have no doubt this system will again set new standards that our competitors will see to follow," says chief executive Steve Ridgeway.

"The system is simple and intuitive for passengers to use with around 300 hours of entertainment at their fingertips - quite literally using the latest touchscreen technology. We are confident that even our more technophobic passengers will find it easy to use. It is packed with blockbuster movies and award-winning TV shows along with a wide choice of music for all tastes and games so the time on board will literally fly by."

Panasonic Avionics CEO Paul Margis says the partnership with Virgin "gives us the confidence to push the envelope, continue to innovate and deliver solutions that exceed Virgin's expectations".

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news