07 August 2013

Airlines want a greater choice of Light IFE suppliers in the A350 catalogue.

Airbus is still planning to expand the options for inflight entertainment systems (IFE) offered on the A350 XWB through a call for tender for “light” IFE solutions, a move that will be welcomed by airlines keen to see a greater choice of suppliers in the A350 catalogue.

As it stands, airlines can choose between Thales and Panasonic Avionics as the sole suppliers of seat-back IFE systems on the A350. The solutions currently offered are Thales’ AVANT and AVANT-Lite products and Panasonic’s eX3 and eXLite systems.

However, Airbus cabin services marketing manager Patrick Candalier said that Airbus is “studying alternatives within the frame of a call for tender for light IFE solutions”.

Zodiac’s RAVE seat-centric IFE solution is rumoured to be under consideration. Lumexis previously said it is seeking linefit status for its fibre-optics-based IFE with major airframers; the firm recently hired former Airbus cabin executive Jon Norris as its VP, sales.

But Candalier declines to provide further details about possible alternatives “due to the confidentiality of the call for tender”.

This move will be welcomed by airlines looking for more choice, such as British Airways. “Airframers are getting pressure from airlines,” says BA IFE and technology manager Richard D’Cruze, adding that “there is a whole raft of suppliers that don’t get a look-in”.

D’Cruze has the following message for the aircraft manufacturers: “Broaden your catalogues, please.”

Despite such calls, Candalier is keen to stress that the A350’s IFE offering is “the most comprehensive ever, covering the long-haul market with four brand new IFE products already part of its portfolio”. He adds that the already-available solutions from Thales and Panasonic, teamed with the alternatives under consideration, “enable the A350 XWB to fully cope with all airlines’ needs incurred by regional and long-haul operations”.

Finnair director customer entertainment Jouni Oksanen recently made the point that on the A350 – which the Scandinavian carrier is scheduled to begin taking delivery of in the second half of 2015 – “there is no option to buy the aircraft without embedded IFE”.

For this reason, Oksanen says that he does not “see a way that tablets can work in the whole cabin”.

However, Airbus COO customers John Leahy said that the absence of an option to order the A350 without a seatback system “could always change going forward”. While Airbus’ chief salesman believes tablet-based IFE is “something that’s going to have to prove itself on single-aisle aircraft first”, he says that “if you were a big airline and you wanted [the A350] without [embedded IFE] then we could do that”.

The idea that it is up to airlines to do the influencing is echoed by BA’s D’Cruze, who says: “If something is not in the catalogue, we would have to go in and influence the airframer’s way of thinking. It’s up to us.”

As an example, D’Cruze says that when BA ordered its Boeing 777-300s, “our economy seat configuration wasn’t in the catalogue. We had to go through the whole catalogue process to get it in the Boeing catalogue”.

He points out that both Airbus and Boeing “have frequent catalogue forums” which “enable airlines to give feedback”, although he adds that “there is only so much you can do”.

Based on the article “Airbus to broaden IFE options on A350 XWB; chief salesman John Leahy weighs in” published in the APEX Editor´s blog

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