If you heard about the mayhem in the famous Bellagio fountain last week, the image of Sir Richard Branson riding, or dumping, a jet ski in the water in Las Vegas is probably permanently etched in your brain. The event honored the 10 year anniversary of Virgin Atlantic’s non-stop flight service to Mcarran airport from the UK. As he usually does, Virgin’s Sir Richard, prompted a stunt to mark the event and we will give you some coverage of that madness next issue. The Virgin investment of $2 Billion in new planes and new service from Manchester airport, as well as, the 10th anniversary of the service to Las Vegas, were reason enough for the celebration.

The IFE story belongs to Panasonic because of the $70 Million invested by Virgin in the Panasonic eX2 and eXPhone System (via AeroMobile) on 10 new A330’s. The aircraft begin delivery next February, and initially, the hardware will be installed via retrofit. However, Virgin is pressing both Boeing (B747) and Airbus (A330) for future line fit (TC’d) solutions. The news conference last week (shown above) brought together Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson – President, Steve Ridgeway – CEO, Greg Dawson – Director Communications together with Panasonic’s Charles Oglivie – Executive Director, and Rossi Ralenkotter – President Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority.

Obviously excited over the fact that the Las Vegas destination was fourth on VA’s revenue generation destination list, he was very enthusiastic about the Panasonic system. Said Sir Richard, “The possibilities now are unlimited. We want mobile phones to be on silent, but there will be light alerts at the passenger’s seat when a call comes in. We might eventually establish silent zones if need be but we’ll see how things go. This means the business men and women will never be out of touch. Our train riders can add four work hours to their work day when traveling with us by rail. It will be no different in the air.” IFExpress talked to the VA and Panasonic representatives and it was clear that the new non-stop A330’s that will fly from the UK to Las Vegas are an important part of both the Las Vegas growth plan and the future of Virgin Atlantic.

The “take-away” here is that Panasonic is actively engaged with Virgin Atlantic today to bring their whole suite of phone-TV-Internet services to the aircraft – initially via Inmarsat and eventually via their broadband network. Paul Margis told IFExpress that they presently have consigned Ku-Band transponders in their network that cover the world routes and planes are operating with the capability today. It is obvious that Sir Richard is a fan of technology as he noted passenger preference for using connected devices; “Passengers will be able to email, make phone calls, use their iPhones to talk and text message.” Virgin Atlantic’s existing fleet of of 33 wide-body aircraft have to look pretty good to Panasonic and we expect that the negotiations are underway to upgrade their whole fleet. Time will tell.

Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out the Aeromobile release in this issue of IFExpress and here is more about Panasonic and Virgin Atlantic as well as the latest release from Panasonic.