Aptly named, RAVE from IMS is our star this week… and that is what it is getting from airlines! RAVE capitalizes on airlines’ desire for increased reliability and decreased weight and complexity – circumstances exacerbated by the economic downturn.  Rising fuel costs and the need to eliminate excess weight continues to characterize IFE requirements today. For a company like IMS, reversing decades with a completely different system architecture – at a time when airlines were reducing the amount of money spent on IFE – was a calculated risk. IFExpress snagged a one-on-one with Joe Renton, IMS Founder and CEO, and asked about the most successful IFE system introduction we know about. We also note, 2011 was the best year in the company’s history and with that introduction – read on:

Q: What exactly is the IMS RAVE offering for single aisle commercial airplanes?
RAVE (Reliable Affordable and Very Easy) is a next-generation DO-160 qualified IFE system providing high-definition audio/video on demand to each seat for the price of a typical overhead video system. The entire Ethernet-based system is essentially comprised of two LRUs – a single headend System Control Unit (SCU) and the Seat Display Unit (SDU) at each seat. Since all of the content resides at the seat, there is no need for a large Video Control Center (VCC) or to monopolize a bag bin. It is important to note, that while we are talking about a single aisle solution – the same RAVE system has already been installed in twin-aisle aircraft as well; just add seats.

Q: IMS seems to be taking on bigger vendors with the RAVE Solution. Having said that, why do you think the RAVE product is so successful and what features make RAVE stand out?
RAVE provides the airlines an AVOD system that is highly reliable, lower power, and lighter weight for much less. In today’s world of higher fuel costs and increasing passenger expectations, RAVE delivers entertainment and information with superior quality and a simple user interface via a capacitive touch screen. While our feature set is comparable to existing IFE systems, we continue to develop new applications to keep the passenger experience rich and exciting. With these attributes, more airlines are finding AVOD more affordable and easier to install where this was not possible before.

Each RAVE SDU contains all the hardware and software to provide
entertainment at each seat – resulting in a fast and reliable experience for every passenger regardless of the number of seats. There are no servers or distribution boxes that could cause a group of seats (or the entire aircraft) to be without entertainment. Should a passenger SDU fail – no other seat or passenger is affected – therefore no more seat/zone/cabin IFE system resets. Additionally, our patented design allows the cabin crew to replace the SDU inflight (within seconds) – allowing the passenger to enjoy the entertainment system for the rest of the flight.

Seat suppliers also find that RAVE is very easy to install and certify – resulting in lower seat integration costs and shorter time to install. Since the SDUs are very low power (about 10 Watts) and thin, they are more easily integrated into smaller and narrower seatbacks, which are common in single-aisle aircraft, and also a growing trend for all aircraft.

Reliability is also a key element for RAVE and our customers. Since the system architecture is comprised of effectively only two LRUs, the system is easy to maintain. No longer is a dedicated and highly skilled maintenance team required to possess hardware, software and IT backgrounds to maintain the aircraft. Additionally, the RAVE architecture doesn’t require outbound support for maintenance or spares, thus reducing logistics and hardware costs significantly.

Q: Will the RAVE system be offerable for the B737MAX and A320NEO (or any new airplane, for that matter) or will IMS prefer to install the RAVE System as a retrofit-only program?
We have focused on a retrofit solution for RAVE for the past two years; however we have had several discussions with various OEMs for installation as line fit. Our system architecture is compatible with line fit installations for single as well as twin aisle aircraft.

Q: What screen size offerings are available for the single aisle aircraft…seat back, in-arm, bulkhead, overhead?
RAVE currently supports a variety of screen sizes from 9 inch to 17 inch. We are also developing larger displays to support other premium class seating configurations, albeit mostly for twin aisle aircraft. It is also interesting to note that our seatback displays are identical to our bulkhead and in-aisle/overhead displays, thus reducing part numbers and spares costs.

Q: Since RAVE is flying today, can you provide a bit more of information like: how many seats/planes are on order, are flying, which airlines are so equipped, what aircraft are involved?
RAVE has been selected by 9 airlines. By the time this is printed we will be flying on four airlines, with the initial entry into service beginning December 2011, and we are FAA/EASA certified on A330, A340 and B747-400 aircraft. Installations of B767 and B777s occur later this year and we will have about thirty (30) aircraft installed by mid-2012. We have programs integrating with ten (10) different seat suppliers, and growing.

Q: What is the weight per seat of your offering?
RAVE per seat weights and power will vary by system and aircraft configurations. However, we currently have aircraft installations that average about 3 pounds per seat that include an entire RAVE system, including cables, and average power per seat of just over 10 Watts. These results are achieved by the low weight / power of our seat components, as well as a single headend component (SCU).

Q: What seat vendors are potential suitors for seat back installation – or – which seat vendors are presently involved with your RAVE system. Are they new or retrofit installations?
Our RAVE programs are being integrated into various seat models provided by ACRO, AVIO, BE, Contour, Geven, Recaro, Sicma, Sogerma, Thompson and ZIM.

Q: Would you like to address any price or installation advantages that your system has over the competition?
As mentioned earlier, the system architecture lends itself to be easily installed and maintained. With the ten seat suppliers and eight aircraft integrators, installation costs and lead times are significantly reduced. We completed our first aircraft installation and were flying in less than 12 months from the start of a program. That may be an industry first; to introduce a new system with new seats and be fully certified and flying in 10 months. Our system price will vary based on the system and aircraft configuration, however we are typically at least half the price of the traditional IFE systems available today.

Finally, IFExpress asked Joe Renton founder and CEO of The IMS Company about “David vs Goliath” attitude of the whole IMS team and he told us: “Airlines often ask what sets IMS apart from the other ‘up and coming’ IFE suppliers. Longevity for one; IMS has been a profitable business for over 16 years. Innovation is another trademark of our company. IMS has made a career out of innovating IFE solutions that others simply forgot about or didn’t understand. RAVE is the latest result of bringing our unique combination of experience and innovation to the airline industry,” said Joe. “The fact that eight airlines; including Lufthansa chose RAVE before it ever flew is a testimony to the strength of the RAVE vision and the trust that airlines have been willing to invest in IMS.” We say – hardware vendors who focus on cost, weight, power, and reliability will call the shots in time of expensive fuel. Airline-centric, you bet!

Editor’s Note: With AIX looming, we wanted to assure our readers that the IFExpress Pre-Show Edition will be sent out Sunday March 25 while the our regular March 27 edition will be sent out while we are at the show. Here is a Hot Topic Hint for next week – Astronics New Home!