At the last Aircraft Interiors Conference in Hamburg we met up with Mark Thompson-CEO and Heiko Wiedmann-CFO, of Thompson Aerospace respectfully. The technical whiz, Mark, gave us a bewildering tour thru their new system and because of the new spin they placed on the hardware and business model, we thought they would be a prime revisit for our Single-Aisle Solutions series. We think you will find their system worth a second look and be sure to visit them in Hamburg and tell them IFExpress sent you.

Q: The last time we met you folks was at Aircraft Interiors some 9 months ago. Can you update our readers on your progress… customers, technology developments, installations, customer and airline feedback, etc.?
A:
We have one announced customer that has been in service for about 6 months on one A319 aircraft with our 1Net Infotainment solution.  We have had positive reactions from the passengers that use our system and from advertisers on the value of the interactions with the passengers.  We also have signed agreements with content suppliers to increase the amount of content we can provide. Additionally we offer weather and other destination specific information. 

Thompson Aerospace is going to install our in seat power product, 1Net Power Solution, on the same aircraft during the first quarter of 2012.  As all of our products, our in-seat power solution provides for weight and power output advantages compared to existing products.  The in seat power plug, designed by IFPL uses no mechanical switches found in current products. We are using a highly power efficient power supply that has been designed by our other partner TDI power, who produces power supplies for many demanding applications. TDI has provided us with a highly efficient power supply design that does not require a Master Control Unit while utilizing a single wire for all aspects of power management.

We have two new products that we expect to place in to the market in the short run. 

The first one is our 1Net Health Monitoring product that allows us to monitor the Arinc429/ Arinc717/Arinc485 aircraft data buses and other discrete inputs through our Aircraft Network Adaptor.  With our patent pending 1Net technology we are able to mix different types of data on one single physical network. Our 1Net system architecture utilizes hardware programed switches and network access control to govern what data is sent to and from specific and different types of devices.  As part of our health monitoring solution, we have been looking at an Electronic Flight Bag solution. We will either design our own or partner with another supplier to provide this additional functionality to 1Net.

The second one is our 1Net Connect product, that will add a Wireless Access Point to our network. Through our patent pending technology we provide hardware security devices that will only allow pre-authorized and qualified users to access our system.  We view this as an attractive low cost product moving forward.  This product will be more useful in the market place once Inmarsat starts launching their high bandwidth Ka band satellites scheduled in 2014.  In order to get cell phone connectivity, we are evaluating a femtocell based product to add to our network in order to support the new capabilities that will be available in the 2014 time frame. Over the past year we witnessed several companies trying to provide an inflight ISP solution.  In our view, once Inmarsat launched its satellites, all existing inflight ISP providers will have competitive issues and most likely Inmarsat will be the provider of choice.

Q: As IFExpress remembers, your system uses an Ethernet-based network with box-to-box connections. Can you re-visit the design today and perhaps give our readers an update on the seat box unit?
A:
We use a Power of Ethernet (PoE) solution that is customized to our application, based on specific requirements for aircraft installations, such as lower voltages and current requirements.  We are the first to use this technology, enabling significant reduction in weight and power, while providing the extra protective features of PoE. As this was a new technology for us, we experienced some technical challenges on the plane.  After in service evaluation we understood the situation, we substituted upgraded units that addressed this issue.  Our customer Bahrain Air has been a great partner working with us thru this challenge, and we thank Bahrain Air for being our launch 1Net airline.

Q: The Thompson Aerospace economic model was different from anyone else. Can you re-visit it for our readers and tell us a little about the advertising options that are a feature of your system – based on revenue share, we believe.
A:
We view passengers as valuable consumers of information and products. Our system was designed to provide in flight passengers with useful destination specific information including maps with points of interest locations, discounts coupons that can be sent to cell phones/email address or scanned as QR codes. We offer airlines a revenue share agreement, where we provide all the content management service and work with a number of content suppliers to get interesting, relevant content and revenue producing content at no costs to the airlines. Our agreements are structured in such a way that the airline is expected to be cash positive on the system within 18 months. While our system is a full service AVOD product, we view information to be more important to passengers on short flights than traditional audio and video entertainment.


Q: Could you supply some technical documentation for our readers?
A:
1 Net Brochure

Q: As we remember, the Thompson system was quite a lightweight /low power winner. Can you revisit that subject and perhaps more about the design direction?
A:
Our product, while meeting the certification requirements for an aircraft in the A320 class, is not designed to meet the criteria that the OEM require for their current assembly process. In order to save cost and weight, we have designed our system to remove some of the equipment that traditionally would be required by OEMs such as Area Distribution Boxes, Floor/Wall Disconnect Boxes and Master Control Units. We used a design for manufacturing and assembly (DFMA) approach. In some cases, we choose more expensive components such as flash drives and processor boards that lower the number of overall components, resulting in a Infotainment system that only requires 3 LRU’s, while providing all the traditional IFE functions . With our product we are able to support a 254 seat aircraft from a single 2 MCU server at the headend. We offer installing our seatbox, while small and capable of supporting up to 8 screens, behind the sidewall and not under the seat, avoiding interference from and providing more legroom to the revenue passenger.  For our inseat screen, we elected ARM9 type processors that are commonly used in tablet computers, providing for very efficient power usage of 10.5 watts max.

While we view our existing product as a best in class, we are testing new combination of screens and processors for the next generation of 1Net, with the goal to reduce our weight and power requirements by an additional 20 percent. While we currently have one of the lightest products on the market, we are always focusing on reducing long term costs for the operators driven by weight and maintenance. 

Our existing product has an 8.5 inch screen and our next generation product will be plug and play compatible. We entered into an agreement with Imagik for a new 1Net 17 inch LED screen. At the last year’s Aircraft Interior we showed a 17 inch screen and we will be using Imagik’s new product line to make an improved version.  As some of our customers have widebody aircraft in additional to their single aisle aircraft fleet, we will offer to these customers a complete integrated IFE product.  While we have a less expensive and lighter weight IFE offering for widebody, it is not a market that we focus on, as we view creating revenue opportunities on single aisle aircraft as our expertise.   

Our agreement with Imagik allows us to offer customized widebody premium class products, while Thompson Aerospace will focus on providing our single aisle customer with the industry leading narrowbody infotainment solution.

Our system is the based on inputs from many sources. We always welcome recommendation on the product line and how we can make it more economical for the airlines. 

Q: Are you offerable on any OEM aircraft manufacturer’s single aisle aircraft as a standard option, line-fit IFE system? Is there an STC on any retrofit today? What aircraft(s) if so?
A:
Because our focus was to produce a very low cost system, we have decided not to adhere to the aircraft installation requirements of the two major OEMs.  As such our market is the upgrade/retrofit sector. While our screen fits into a standard Arinc cutout, it is lighter and uses much less expensive cabling, compared to the current systems.  We have worked with a few of the new regional jet OEMs on installing our core system as a CSS and received very positive feedback.  We have EASA approval for the A319, A320, A321 aircraft today and our system is flying on an A319 plane at Bahrain Air

Q: Will you be at Aircraft Interiors in 2012?
A:
Yes, we will be at the show and will have our existing approved Infotainment and Power Solution products on display.  We will show our web based content management system that allows advertisers to create their own content and view it as it would show on a customer GUI.  We will show how the customer is able to approve the content before we upload over the cell phone link.  We are able to change content while the plane is on the ground without any operator intervention.  

Q: Have you added any new people at Thompson?
A:
We have added Linda Maxwell to our board, http://www.walkersresearch.com/Profilepages/Show_Executive_Title/Executiveprofile/L%5CLinda__Maxwell_400172825.html

We have a number of aerospace insiders that have worked at high management that provide us with advice on our product development are expecting to add two more board members thru the year.
If you need more information, contact heikoWiedmannn@thompsonaerospace.com or visit http://thompsonaerospace.com

============================================================================

Lastly, if you have a smartphone, checkout the free/cheap apps we have found by clicking on the promo advert ——->

Buried in the back of building 5 at AIX, we found Thompson Aerospace, headed by machine-gun speaking Mark Thompson, we were greeted with a fusillade of facts and IFE prognostication: “We are not an IFE manufacturer,” he said, “We are a ‘focused solution’ company, founded and funded by aerospace professionals.” And yes, their business card says it all – “Specializing in Improving Airline Economics.” This is a great value proposition for airlines because his focus is airline profit. IFE, according to Thompson, is just another road to profitability and that credo seems to have leaked into every technical decision in the development of their system.

For starters, the Thompson system is based on an Ethernet 100 Base-T backbone. Each IFE installed seat (including cabling) is only a 3.3 pound addition to the aircraft weight and uses some 10 watts. That is quite respectable! Initially targeted for single-aisle aircraft, the Ethernet seat boxes are designed for sidewall installation and can serve up to 10 passengers (sounds like twin-aisle capability to us). The design of the box has been optimized by Thompson and, noted Mark,”…the cabling has been reduced by 2/3, as well as, the cost of the cabling.” It looks to us like Thompson has taken an optimization razor to the whole system and what results is a very airline/aircraft friendly design. We made the mistake of calling the system an Ethernet but we were quickly corrected by Mark. “We have developed a Local Area Network on an aircraft.” It seems that the focus is on the aircraft and Thompson is aiming for an optimization of the electronics functions in an effort to deliver a lower cost solution for airlines that has great money making potential. For a better understanding of their value proposition, check out the comparison tool on their website.

The Thompson system is over 3 years in the making. The first year, the team visited and talked to airlines to get data on what airlines needed and what business model would work. In the second, they developed requirements and a spec that outlined the business plan and the hardware plan. Good idea! The system evolved into a first sale to Bahrain Air and a model with which to go forward. Mark Thompson told IFExpress, “We sell each seat worth of IFE at $3K per seat. This includes the retrofit installation and certification,” he said. He also noted that if airlines go with Thompson, they deliver to the airlines 90% of the shared revenue. How do they get that revenue, you ask, “Advertisers and passenger purchases,” he noted. This is another interesting story as well. Each seat back display has a credit card swipe, the purpose of which, is to deliver a way to pay for items purchased in flight. The fulfillment story is designed into the the two IFE system Ethernet servers that have celluar connectivity as they provide a way to upload what is for sale by advertisers and they also have the ability to deliver ‘thousands of pages of order info’ upon landing. Interestingly, vendors can upload their adverts themselves via the Thompson website and choose parameters like ad duration, routes, etc. This is a first, we think.

To emphasize the revenue focus placed on the hardware, we asked about spares. While extolling us with reliability Mark made a curious statement, “I am not in the business if selling spares. It is a business function and we sell them at the same price as a baseline system. My job is to deliver a Google-like IFE model to the airlines.” That is refreshing news and we have Mark’s word to prove it. “The Thompson system costs 1/4 the the cost per flight of other systems and we can guarantee it!” We suppose he has a point when you take into consideration the low cost coupled with the revenue advantages of a web-based pay and advertising system. For more information, check their website or call Mark direct in Irvine at (949) 690-8668.

Here are two more show images from the Thompson booth.
System Block Diagram
Value Proposition