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Connectivity Takes Center Stage At AIX

New product announcements from technology players as MROs look to double down on aircraft cabin work.

With aircraft connectivity in the ascendance and increasingly extending beyond the cockpit, many of aviation’s prominent technology providers used this week’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg to showcase their present and future innovations.

Taking prominence was in-flight entertainment & connectivity products. Among them was Inmarsat, the UK-headquartered satellite telecommunications company which confirmed it has now exceeded 1,000 expected aircraft under signed contracts for its GX Aviation and European Aviation Network (EAN) inflight broadband offerings.

At AIX, Inmarsat expanded its cooperation with AirAsia, with the Malaysia-based airline among the likes of Lufthansa, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines as Inmarsat users.

The two parties announced a memorandum of understanding to gradually upgrade the carrier’s Airbus A320 fleet and begin a brand new rollout of GX Aviation and EAN broadband across its A330 long-haul jets.

Through AirAsia’s Rokki entertainment system, passengers will be able to access the IFEC platform through offline devices. Retrofitting of the aircraft is expected to begin in Q4 2017 with a 2018 rollout. “We would like this done quickly as we feel we are behind the curve in this area,” AirAsia chief executive Benyamin Ismail told a media briefing in Hamburg.

Other companies with significant IFEC announcements included Panasonic Avionics launching its NEXTTM IFEC platform. “Our global connectivity network, weather services, and maintenance organization are all key examples of how our services and products have evolved into an integrated ecosystem that will exponentially increase the value the NEXT platform delivers to airlines and their passengers,” said CEO Hideo Nakano.

But while IFEC systems garnered much attention, the full effect of the connectivity drive will extend beyond just these innovations and into other areas including better maintenance reporting, Honeywell Aerospace’s director, cross product marketing & connected aircraft business development Philip Hermann, told Aviation Week’s Helen Massy-Beresford.

The surge of aircraft makers in the aftermarket segment also saw another development, with Airbus announcing a new commercial aircraft cabin upgrades business - Airbus Interior Services – to offer retrofit services.  

Aside from OEMs, traditional repair specialists also see much opportunity in cabin upgrade work over the next decade. Given the common trajectory of interiors being modified every six to seven years, Switzerland’s SR Technics says it is targeting cabin upgrade work to account for between 60-70% of all company work in the next few years from its center of excellence in Zurich.

Michael Sattler, senior vice president aircraft services at SR Technics, which has ongoing reconfiguration A320 cabin projects with Edelweiss and SWISS, said last year’s EASA approval for Boeing 777 cabin modifications work was a continuation of its capability expansion.

“From a know-how perspective, the approval allows us to take our experience with the Airbus fleet and transfer it to the 777,” he says.

Another MRO, France’s Sabena technics, is also experiencing high demand for interiors work. The MRO received EASA STC approval for a Honeywell JetWave Ka-band system to be installed on an Airbus widebody.

Lionel Bacquey, Sabena technics program manager, said differentiating across aviation segments has ensured workflow at its Bordeaux facility has remained robust. “There are a lot of interior projects ongoing right now across commercial, military and VIP programs. This means slots up until the end of the year are limited,” he said.

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