Six months ago we did a story on a newly designed, commercial aircraft retractable monitor with its developer and designer, Yukio Sugimoto. If you have a technical bent you may remember that his product was an engineer’s dream, instead of the mechanical nightmare that historically plagues these devices. In all fairness, the restrictions and requirements on retractable monitors are moderately onerous, especially considering the fact that they must operate with power that is subject to dropping out… not to mention issues like the video display retract necessity under loss of power or in emergency situations. (Editor’s Note: There is a qualification test requirement (RTCA DO-160 currently version “F”) which says that avionics equipment must withstand 250 milliseconds of power interruption and this poses some difficulty to electro mechanical equipment like retractable monitors. The real FAA requirement issue is: How does one design the monitor to close when airplane power is lost? With loss of power, the first generation retractable monitor systems that use mechanical springs and other additional parts, like clutches and control mechanisms, have generated a lot of problems in, resulting in lower reliability units.) This also explains the high mechanical parts count and resultant weight increase, not to mention stored energy springs to facilitate zero power retractions. As we noted in the earlier article, the ACS patent pending solution involves storing energy in capacitors – that’s the simple answer but it is a circuitry design solution as well! We stopped by the company’s Redmond office for an update with Yukio Sugimoto, President and Richie Sugimoto, the company’s new Vice President – Operations.

Product Update

If there is one message our IFExpress reporter got from the test team it was: “The new retractable monitor is performing even better than expected. In fact, it has undergone over 250,000 cycle operations without a single failure!” noted Yukio, “Which is pretty remarkable in its self.” Unit qualification testing is now underway and it looks like the manufacturing process is clearly in the build-up stage. What really caught our news eye was the fact that ACS has designed an even bigger screen version than the first 9.7-inch LED unit, a whopping 12- inch, (diagonal) HD display version. In fact when we saw it in the life cycle test frame, we wondered if it would fit in the narrower Airbus overhead PSU rails? “Look closer,” Yukio said. “The new, bigger display actually retracts flat against the outside of the PSU while the rest of the frame and the electronics are buried in the PSU itself – the box sits between the rails while the display (and cover) protrudes ½ an inch above the surface and folds flat against it.” Later, Mr. Sugimoto, who has a history of industry soothsaying, hinted that standard HD video is not the only video standard interface he is considering. He would not say much more on the subject that left us to wonder if different industry video standards will be the subject of future IFE systems?

The Market

When we got wind of the retract we wondered like you probably did – the market for retractable units must be dropping, in part because of their past reliability issues with retracts – perhaps the highest MTBF of any IFE LRU. We asked Richie about the demand for retracts. “Here is where we are ahead of the market and our answer is buried in airline operational cost increases… our product will be an airline cost saver!” He went on, “Keeping those operational costs down is the name of the IFE game today, and our retract is a game-changer, especially for value driven airlines and airlines that are seeing a lot of onboard passenger use of their own entertainment devices (PED’s). Let’s face it, it costs an airline a lot of money to install and pay for the recurring costs (maintenance, content, and fuel) of a multiple displays while many watch their own PED movies or work on laptops instead. Look at it this way, both retractable overhead and seatback devices can do an approved job of delivering the safety briefing but as an airline, which would you rather pay for, especially if the overhead units cut the maintenance costs by 80 per cent!” While the market for retractable monitors is falling off, no one knows the effect of personal, carry-on devices. There is an argument for pay-per-click revenue in seatback solutions but the ACS team pointed out that on any flight under 1 ½ hours or so, that revenue model falls apart, not to mention the challenge of showing full-length movies. Subtract the 30 minutes lost after take-off and before landing and the model might even extend to longer flights. “The message is simple,” noted Richie, “airlines that want to cut costs and airlines that fly in short haul markets need to take a new look at retractable monitors… not to mention routes where passengers bring their own devices! The costs are unbeatable – overhead monitors have a 9 to 1 display advantage. One monitor can serve 9 passengers.”

Let’s review:

• The new retractable video monitors from ACS employ new technologies that make them more reliable, exhibit longer MTBF, and in some cases, provide larger displays than previously offered
• ACS claims their new HD retractable video monitors offer airlines reduced procurement, installation, operational life costs
• The overhead video display monitor market may soon make a comeback because of the aforementioned and recent trends in passenger personal electronic devices (PEDs)
• Airline crews on low cost airlines prefer video display for safety briefings versus no video display solutions
• Display costs for overhead video is roughly 9 to 1 are in favor of solutions involving one display per passenger

No doubt the new retractable monitor will impact the retrofit market first. In fact if we were to bet, we expect the low cost folks to be the first to climb onboard. If you want a hands-on experience ACS will exhibit the new device at AIX in Hamburg next month. We expect to see both the 9.7-inch and the 12-inch units there with more data available as well. Be sure to ask Yukio, Richie, or Ben Ludlow for a demo and tell them IFExpress sent you. For more information contact Ben Ludlow, or by telephone (425) 883-8008 (ex 100); or see the team and the new retract at AIX in Hamburg, Booth 6B18.

(Editor’s Note: You will notice that we do not refer to a product name or model numbers and we attribute that fact to two things. Firstly, this unit is destined to be an OEM device, and as such, will only have numerical representation. Secondly, the ACS team has frankly been too busy to do so. When you see them at AIX, they might have an update!)