The Aircraft Interiors mash-up in Hamburg ended this past week with some very interesting and unpredicted trends in the IFE space. For sure, the move toward smaller, thinner, lighter and more capable electronics was present. Second, third, and fourth generation electronics were claimed in the thin seat/thin and smart IFE world. Without a doubt, this is the trend of the next round of seatback/seat hardware. We really liked the Thales product!

There were a number of R&D projects almost ready for prime time: A wireless seat power development project that claimed 97% efficiency from KID (isn’t that better than wire?); a really great in-seat power supply design concept (Recaro and KID), which removed the seat power box and placed it in a central seat tube; a rapid prototyping capability for seat peripheral products (IFPC); a new, simple, content aggregation software from an Italian supplier; a new satcom/radio software data reduction algorithm that lops 40% of the overhead budget (TriaGnoSys); a new line of inflight hardware from a predominantly portable IFE supplier; a big sale for one fiber-optic IFE provider; two new seat power boxes; a 65” LCD Display; and so much more.

There is a big deal underway in IFE gatelink data that promises to expand ground-based IFE/airplane data that may finally automate that last node on the airline networks – the aircraft. It may do so by the build-up of ground-based networking…not in-flight connectivity. This offering looks like another SITA or ARINC and may incorporate their efforts as well. We will report on this project in the upcoming weeks.

iPad, iPad, iPad is all we heard about. No less that 8 vendors at the Hamburg Show had them in their booth. One even professed that it will be used as an inflight IFE offering. We do not know how it will ever pass DO-160 specifications so that rules out an imbedded application, but hope springs eternal. Additionally, the unit still stumbles with the lack of file handling capabilities and multitasking…not to mention security issues around file encryption. One rumor on the floor placed a major movie distributer in the booth of one vendor claiming they must print a retraction to an earlier news release claiming iPad first run movies? You can believe what you may but you heard it here first.

On the road, we wanted to give a tip-of-the-hat to Seattle Tacoma International Airport for their much appreciated, free Wi-Fi offered to all travelers. In an interview, the airport claimed that it costs them easily over $100,000 each year given the fees and royalties paid by service providers. Airports are not friendly places any more, but the folks at SeaTac deserve mention.

We hear Alaska Airlines will be offering introductory free Go-go Wi-Fi service till July 31, this year.

While air travel to and from the Hamburg show was nothing short of madness, thanks to the Icelandic volcano, we worry about the long-term impact on European air travel and airlines. Having experienced the absolute breakdown of one airline’s ability to manage the emergency we wonder if there are any management solutions to random weather emergencies? One thing for sure, it is going to cost us all more to fly!

You are correct, pictured here is IFE’s Geoff Underwood (Inflight Peripherals) at a reception meeting HRH Elizabeth II after receiving the Queen’s Award for achievement in export or innovation. In Geoff’s words, “It doesn’t matter how big or small the company is… I guess it would be the same as a “Presidents Award” in the USA.  It’s the highest award that a company can get in the UK, and only a handful get it each year, so its pretty cool for our little company to receive this coveted award.” Right you are Mr. Underwood and we note that it took almost a year to get the humble UK business owner to tell us more. His words probably describe the scene best: “Ours was for export (international trade) because most of our products ship to the USA, and for the fact that we have gained business with world leading organizations (you know who they are). Once you have the Award, you can use the logo on your headed notepaper, and stuff like that, and you can generally use the status of the Award to “big up” your business.  Obviously, it’s not that well known in the USA, but in the UK and in Europe it’s well respected. I like to think that this has been achieved by producing good products, but also by gaining the trust of our customers through providing what we say we’re going to provide.  Our delivery record is excellent. We turn around new designs quickly, and the quality and reliability of our products is way up there too.”  

Geoff went on, “So, we got told about the award in April.  Then we were invited to meet HM The Queen and HRH Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace. The coolest bit was being able to drive our car through the front gates in front of the Palace – They are the one’s you see in all the movies where tourists stand. Claire and I laughed our socks off when foreign tourists were taking photos of us… just in case we might be royalty!!!!  You’ll have to call her Princess Claire from now on! Inside, there’s a reception where you stand around talking with other Award winners. Then you queue up and get introduced to HM The Queen. Shake hands, bow, and then move on. Later in the year was the presentation of the actual Award. This is a beautiful cut glass bowl, and it was presented at our factory on the Isle of Wight by HM The Queen’s representative The Lord Lieutenant (pronounced Leftenant here in jolly old England). We invited loads of suppliers and customers, and had a great day, which included a tour of the Island on an open top bus!” Jolly good on you, Geoff! 

On another front, check out link on the AirCell/Delta vs. Ambit lawsuit:
http://www.ajc.com/business/content/business/delta/stories/2009/02/18/aircell_delta_lawsuit_wifi.html. It seems a Brit with an international patent claims infringement, but we have never heard of the guy(s). Obviously, no comment from all involved but you might Google the title of the patent for more info… or check out this link: http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/en/wo.jsp?IA=GB2007001278&wo=2007116209&DISPLAY=STATUS

You other IFE vendors who are dabbling in connectivity (you know who you are) might want to pay particular attention to this one:�
Lastly, we have been getting emails about a forthcoming legal battle between Digecor and E-Digital on the bench this week. Stay Tuned, it’s never dull here!