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Expert: In-flight entertainment needs iPod-era revamp

Airlines should scrap in-flight entertainment systems as they are being outstripped by advances in storage and functionality on modern media players, according to an aviation expert
Written by Nick Heath, Contributor on

Airlines should scrap in-flight entertainment systems because they cannot compete with the thousands of songs and scores of movies that can be stored on modern media players, according to an aviation expert.

The pace at which airlines can update the selection of film, music, games and technology offered to passengers is being outstripped by constant advances in storage and functionality on media players, according to professor John Hansman, director of the International Technology Center for Air Transport at MIT.

"When an airplane is outfitted it is expected to last 10 to 12 years so, as a consequence, most of the in-flight entertainment devices are obsolete within maybe two years," Hansman told the Sita Air Transport IT Summit in Cannes this week. "The timescale for a change in [consumer] technology is probably about a year."

He said airlines should instead focus on providing the elements necessary to allow users to access media stored on onboard storage or the internet through their own devices.

"In five to 10 years' time a personal device may hold 500 movies. Airlines just have to make sure that they provide interoperability with those things," he said.

"The airline will need to provide power and communication bandwidth for travellers to use these personal devices within the airplane."

Wireless web access is already available or soon to be deployed, across a number of airlines including BA and Ryanair, both of which use a system from OnAir, a joint venture between Airbus and Sita.

However, chief executive of OnAir, Benoit Debains, said that at present the two-channel 432Kbps link provided by OnAir is too slow for streaming media from the internet, and adding an additional aerial was unattractive to airlines because of extra weight and drag.

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