Led by Mary Kirby, founder and editor of Runway Girl Network, the first Cabin Integration Symposium on the Up in the Air track brought together various perspectives from OEMs, to seat designers, to hardware manufacturers to tackle some of the pressing issues in avionics interiors.
A HEALTHY TENSION
From the onset, Lori Salazar, president of Product Management for Thales In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity identified that one of the major challenges faced in commercial avionics interiors manufacturers is keeping up with continuous technology upgrades efficiently and at minimum cost – a challenge, she says, that can only be met with teamwork.
Another challenge the industry faces involves the rules, guidelines and testing required for products to reach the market. From the seat manufacturer’s perspective, Chris Brady, managing director of ACRO explains, “In many cases, regulations aren’t specific enough.”
The SAE Seat committee is working on making seat manufacturing easier, but until then, it takes on average at least two years to implement a new seat model on an aircraft. One of the solutions Salazar calls for is to “divorce IFE testing from seat testing so the process can be completed more quickly at minimized costs,” with savings as high as a “quarter of million dollars.”
Lufthansa Systems hopes to bypass some of the testing required with their BoardConnect product, an off-the-shelf tablet solution that passes the HIC (Head Injury Criteria) test regardless of the tablet device it uses because of the seat’s built-in protective screen.
GROUND TO AIR
Consumer technology changes every six to 12 months, but as Neil James, executive director of Corporate Sales & Product Management for Panasonic Avionics Corporation, points out, airlines are in the position where they have to make decisions for aircraft that will come out three years down the line and will be in service for 10 years. Ingo Gäthje, head of Cabin Design Office for Airbus explains because of these drawn out circumstances, Airbus remains modular, while recognizing that “it’s important to be flexible for future trends.”
James describes this situation as a “healthy tension,” but passengers have generally come to expect the same level of service and connectivity in the air as they have access to on the ground.
Not only do technological advancements on the ground influence what goes into an aircraft, as Angela Vargo, manager of Product Development for Southwest Airlines, asserts, passengers bring their content expectations aboard too, “people want to get on and watch Netflix – to pick up on Orange is the New Black where they left off.”
Instead of focusing on hardware, Vargo argues, “The pipe needs to be first.” She asks, “How can we improve the wireless pipe and work backwards?”
Besides, says Vargo with certitude, embedded hardware “is going the way of the dinosaur.” Passengers prefer their own devices because they are familiar.
“We can’t fight against the PED; we have to love the PED.”
But at the same time, Panasonic, Thales, Lumexis, Airbus, and the other panelists all seemed to agree that the embedded seatback isn’t going anywhere. James sees airlines trying to integrate personal devices into a more immersive IFE experience, rather than displacing it.
Salazar concurs, “There continues to be a demand for seatback IFE on widebody – it won’t be displaced,” adding that it would take at least 20-30 years for displacement to become a reality.
And with seat options like ACRO’s superlight fixed options, or Panasonic’s Sandbox and Hailstone, those clunky embedded seats of yore are trimmed down in favor of slim seats and monitors, accomplished by “putting electronics where there is space, and none where there isn’t,” James says. Lumexis’ FTTS (fiber to the screens) solution promises to save even more space by cutting out seat boxes and reducing the cables required for embedded IFE.
Rather than ditching the embedded screen, Salter suggests that advancements in screen technology may lead to more even screens onboard,
“Screens are going to get thinner, lighter, and we will see them in a lot more places.”
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
A tablet and an embedded screen living happily ever after? CIO of Lufthansa Systems, Joerg Lieb, has been asked to make predictions before and his answer is:
“We can’t predict the future. What will be happening is the consumer will be deciding what to use.”
As for airlines, Lieb tells us that he’s seeing a lot of airlines asking for wireless in-flight entertainment as a way to drive consumer revenue through the screen. Salter agrees: “Payment technology is another hot topic. I think there will be a lot of take-up on that now. Apple Pay, NFC Pay, it’s already here.”