Cabin electronics show went on despite attacks

 - October 4, 2007, 10:14 AM

It was a hectic and somber time for delegates to the 22nd World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) Annual Conference and Exhibition, which was held in mid-September in Brisbane, Australia. Some 840 delegates registered for the event, where 170 companies promoted their capabilities and displayed equipment. Airlines sent 164 delegates and vendor companies 676 delegates.

The U.S. terrorist attacks, which occurred in the evening (local time) before the exhibition’s second day, presented a quiet atmosphere in the exhibition hall and the associated discussion groups. The WAEA organizing committee considered canceling the event, but with air transport back to the U.S. grounded there was no way for most of the delegates to get home.

The opening of the second day of the exhibition was delayed and the breakout sessions were canceled. The WAEA also arranged a counseling service for attendees, provided by the Salvation Army.

A Lucrative Business
In the first eight months of this year, airlines spent $2.105 billion on in-flight entertainment and communications, an increase of 4 percent over last year, according to WAEA figures released at the conference. This was down from the originally estimated 8-percent growth, mostly due to customers delaying delivery of new airliners.

Although the major interest of the exhibitors at the show was the airline industry, some exhibitors had interest in marketing their equipment to the corporate aviation industry. A few exhibitors were planning to unveil equipment at the NBAA Convention in New Orleans that was scheduled for the following week but postponed because of the terrorist attacks.

Meeting delegates told AIN that corporate aviation may figure more prominently in the industry during the next few years as airlines around the world enter a cyclical downturn.

General Dynamics Information Systems displayed a cabin mockup of its new EmPort Systems, an airborne high-speed Internet and e-mail platform that will provide users with the choice of Ethernet, USB or wireless connectivity. According to Michael Mowry, General Dynamics Information Systems’ project engineer for cabin electronics, the system is an outgrowth of wireless technology the company has already fitted to business jets.

He said the equipment has proved so reliable in the corporate jet environment that it is now being offered in airliners, where loads will be much higher. The first Emport was integrated with the new Tenzing Communications Flight Connect equipment delivered during August and installed in a Cathay Pacific Airlines Airbus A330.

Tenzing Communications’ executive vice president of strategic planning, John Wade, said criticism that its data transfer and receipt in the air is batched and transmitted out at 15-min intervals, unlike the instantaneous transmission advertised by Boeing Connexion, is irrelevant as, in the real world, there is always an indeterminate period between the sending of an e-mail message and its receipt.

Wade also pointed out to delegates that security was becoming an issue with corporations involved in in-flight e-mail and recommended that the message be encrypted.

Boeing Connexion gave an update of its communications system, which is now being flight tested in a 737-400. It disputed statements made at the show by competitor Tenzing, which has an equity interest held by Airbus, that the high-speed broadband data transfer is too expensive for general use.

However, Boeing executives contend that future e-communications may require the use of the high-speed connections, and they claimed that their system will not require upgrading as systems improve in capability in the future and new features are available.

UK-based Stratos revealed further details of its plan to allow the operation of cellphones in the air, including receipt of calls. A major aspect of this venture is shielding vital aircraft avionics from interference from passengers’ phones.

The Safety Front
Thales Avionics’ in-flight systems division has just released a new camera for security and safety applications. A smaller version is being developed for use on corporate aircraft. The camera, developed from the versions that provide views of the scenery around the aircraft for passengers, is now certified for the Boeing 747, 767 and 777 and Airbus A320.

With security in aircraft becoming of increasing importance since September 11, the ability of pilots to be able to see what is happening externally and in the cabin will be essential. The camera, which Thales claims can provide fine detail even in low light conditions, weighs only 2.5 lb and can be concealed at various points to give a view around and under the fuselage of the aircraft.

California-based Datron Advanced Technologies displayed an example of its DBS-2400 in-flight TV antenna system for airliners. It also has a tail-cap-mounted DBS-2100 for corporate aircraft and plans to release a new low-profile, low-drag corporate aircraft antenna next year.

Emteq displayed its new EL2 lighting downwash/upwash cabin lighting system, which has garnered interest from business aircraft interior designers. Using the latest in LED technology, the lighting is available in cool white and warm white. The lighting assembly is housed in flame-retardant plastic track.

ACS Aircraft Cabin Systems was busy promoting its 42-in. plasma monitor at the event. The screen has been approved by the FAA for use in the cabin and for suppressing EMI transmissions. ACS said the new screen is lighter than earlier systems and is easier to mount in the cabin. It also provides a brighter image and permits wide-angle viewing.

Fiber-optic cable was being hawked by Nexus Harness for use in avionics and cabin equipment applications. It claims the use of the cable will greatly reduce cost and weight, increase life of the cabling and greatly reduce installation time.