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Aircraft & Manufacturers

The dawn of a new era of in-flight entertainment

Since the early days of commercial aviation, in-flight entertainment technology has come a long, long way.

In 1921, Aeromarine Airways screened the very first in-flight film to its passengers – a short movie called Howdy Chicago which promoted the Windy City as a destination. However, it was another four decades before in-flight entertainment became a staple of commercial aviation; regularly scheduled in-flight movies only began in 1961.

Back in those days, films were shown using old-fashioned projectors; movies were played without sound or colour, and air passengers had to peer over heads to see a flickering screen at the front of the cabin.

The year 1988 marked one of the key milestones in the history of commercial aviation when Airvision introduced the first in-seat audio/video on-demand systems using 2.7 inch LCD technology. The personal screen concept has become an industry standard for long-haul flights since 1991, when Virgin Atlantic became the first commercial airline to offer in-seat video in all cabin classes

Much has changed with times and technology has transformed air travel experiences. Today’s technology-savvy passengers are able to entertain themselves with their own laptops, tablets and smartphones. Passengers are able to pre-load their IT gadgets with movies and music up to the point of boarding. So, what’s the future for in-flight entertainment?

In-flight connectivity is arguably the most important feature for the next generation of in-flight entertainment. In-flight entertainment has gone beyond movies and games; with the advancement of technology, passengers are waiting and expecting for technology to bridge communication mid-air.

Alex Berry, group sales and marketing director at Chapman Freeborn Airchartering, says:

“Connectivity is regarded as crucial for business travellers, but there is now a shift in the expectations of all passengers. It’s not just about picking up that all-important work email – people want round-the-clock access to social media, 24-hour news and entertainment.”

Although some airlines are already offering Wi-Fi, connections are all too often slow and unreliable, as well as expensive.

According to Gogo, the American provider of in-flight connectivity and a pioneer in wireless in-flight digital entertainment solutions, only about 12 per cent of all commercial aircraft are now Wi-Fi enabled.

Self-supplied gadgets are also a potential game changer for the in-flight entertainment business. It’s debatable how long airlines will continue to spend on licencing movies on their passengers’ behalf.

Coupled with rising connectivity capability, would passengers still watch movies when they can surf the web, Facebook, Twitter and check emails during their flight?

Interestingly, Gogo has published the statistics on the common in-air activities, showing what passengers are doing with internet in the sky – the most popular activity being surfing the web, while social networking is only ranked fourth.

It might not be too long before airlines have to fundamentally rethink the existing in-flight business model to create more value for passengers wanting to choose their own entertainment.

In comparison with commercial airline passengers, the in-air experience for private jet charter users certainly differs. Along with spacious and luxurious cabins, many jets offer top-of-the-range movie and entertainment systems.

However, in terms of connectivity, not all private jets currently offer Wi-Fi capability fitted as standard – although is now more common on recent jet types, for example the Bombardier Global 6000 or Dassault Falcon 2000LXS.

“Private jets are typically delivered to new owners ‘green’, leaving the interior fittings and in-flight entertainment system decisions down to the buyer.  While a charter operator might see Wi-Fi as a longer investment for its jet fleet, many owners are put off by the expensive installation costs,” according to Berry.

However, while entertainment systems and internet connectivity will unquestionably form part of the future for both commercial and private aviation, Berry adds:

“For all the advances in technology, we shouldn’t forget that for many passengers part of the attraction of flying is also being able to switch off for a few hours. Many of our executive jet clients still greatly value the privacy that private aviation offers.”

 Image courtesy of Dassault Falcon:  Dassault’s new Flight Cabin Management System is now introduced as standard on jets such as the Falcon 2000LXS, allowing passengers to catch up on financial news or connect with the office while in the air.