Airlines Push Entertainment Options, Legroom Too, Eventually

airlineIt sounds like a dream come true for many airline passengers. A new generation of technology promises to deliver in-seat headphones, video screens and the ability for airline passengers to use their own devices – all the time. But at what cost? Existing technology runs through miles of leg room-consuming wire threaded through seats, but the future promises great entertainment and more space too.

Right now, the trend differs. “It’s of more value for an airline to add two rows worth of seats and have a good inflight entertainment system rather than do the opposite and give passengers more legroom,” aviation writer Mary Kirby told Technology Spectator.

Looking to the future, TriaGnoSys has teamed with Siemens to launch what the two firms say is the smallest, most complete in-flight entertainment and connectivity solution available.

The new system will replace expensive, leg room-consuming technology and can provide:

“The fact it incorporates both IFE content and connectivity makes it possible to provide live updates, for example for news, sport and destination information,” said Siemens CMT vice-president of technology Gerald Schreiber in Electronics Weekly.

All the necessary airborne hardware used with the new system is small and light enough to be mounted within the ceiling panel and connects to the aircraft’s existing communications system.

The idea is that once seats are free of wires and cables, airlines can use less bulky seats.

It would be a win for airlines, enabling them to maintain the number of seats they need to make their profit recipe work out.

It could be a win for air passengers as less bulky seats give back legroom, unless airlines get greedy and add more, less bulky seats.


Flickr photo by hugojcardoso

MondoWindow: a new way of looking at in-flight entertainment

Imagine being bored on a plane. It isn’t hard to do.

First, you’re flipping through the in-flight magazine or the Skymall catalog. Then, maybe you watch the movie or whatever 90s-era sitcom the airline has chosen to pump through the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system to your seatback screen. If you’re lucky, you brought along your smartphone or tablet, which is stocked with music and e-books. Though, if this is a last-minute jaunt or a return trip, you may not have had the foresight to load new content on your device. The availability of WiFi on your plane is still not a given, either, even though it’s twenty-freaking-eleven. And, don’t even think about getting up to walk the aisles for a few minutes – beverage service is about to start!

IFE has indeed made some strides in the past decade but it is a far cry from the type of interactive entertainment we are now accustomed to on the ground. Enter MondoWindow, a start-up that is seeking to be the “disruptive charge in the $6 billion in-flight entertainment industry-an inefficient, bloated sector that is the last major consumer media space still largely untransformed by the Internet.” Co-founders Greg Dicum and Tyler Sterkel aim to harness the “twin disruptions” now happening in the IFE sector, that of the increasing ubiquity of personal devices, such as tablets and smart phones, and the move towards more internet connectivity aboard aircraft, to make “every seat a window seat.”

Here’s how it works:Navigate over to mondowindow.com and you’ll be greeted immediately with the view of the passing terrain from a flight in progress. You can watch the progress of the randomly-generated flight, or track a flight by airline/flight number or airplane tail number. At first glance, this may remind you of the flight status map you see on airplane seatbacks. Look closer at MondoWindow’s live map, and you’ll see points on the map ranging from Wikipedia content and user-submitted Flickr photos to approximately 300 points of interest that the team at MondoWindow have connected to geo-tagged posts on Posterous. All of these interactive push-pins correspond to the points that the plane is passing. This is where the disruption begins.

MondoWindow has built its IFE model around a map. Dicum explains:

“the map is a key piece of any IFE system. It’s the only content that is relevant to absolutely everyone on the plane, and it’s the only content that is unique to the in-flight experience: you can watch TV or movies at home; you can only track your progress across the planet in flight.”

Using the map, wifi, and a growing roster of content, from photos and videos to feature articles and games, MondoWindow brings relevance to the in-flight experience, connecting passengers with the environment – businesses, landmarks, even people – below them. At its most basic, a passenger could tap into MondoWindow for information about the Grand Canyon as she flies over it. A more advanced outlook sees passengers using MondoWindow to participate in geocaching games with persons 30,000 feet below. No doubt, there are possibilities that neither I nor the MondoWindow team, have thought of, especially as interactive technologies develop. When MondoWindow’s map goes global, perhaps passengers could tap into Turkish lessons en route to Istanbul or watch a documentary on The Great Wall as they try to entertain themselves on a long-haul flight to China. MondoWindow’s model has boundless potential for positively disrupting the IFE sector.

MondoWindow is still very young, having only launched its beta site at South by Southwest in March 2011. But it is the “interactive grandchild” from Dicum’s 2004 book Window Seat, which gave airplane geeks, aerial photography enthusiasts, and curious travelers the ability to read the landscape from the air. Paired with Sterkel’s years of experience as a curator and technical project manager for museums such as the Smithsonian and the SFMOMA, MondoWindow has the power to completely change how we view, use, and consume in-flight entertainment. The next step is to get the airlines on board.

Air New Zealand debuts entirely redesigned 777

This morning Gadling is on the ground at King County International Airport (Boeing Field) as Boeing officially delivers Air New Zealand’s newest pride & joy, the completely redesigned 777-300ER.

Air New Zealand has been hard at work for nearly 4 years in an effort to reinvent their long-haul experience. Working with multiple design firms and a series of focus groups, the airline developed two entirely new styles of seats for their Economy and Premium Economy classes in addition to an array of brand-new features never before seen on a 777.

Economy class on the new craft features a design dubbed as the ‘Skycouch‘ (also known as Cuddle Class), with footrests that transform three-across seats into a lie-flat area for couples or families traveling with children.

The new Premium Economy features two types of hard shell designs; inboard seats geared towards couples and those looking to socialize, and outboard seats for individual passengers who prefer to have privacy. Every single seat on the plane has a standard power outlet, USB port, and an S-Video connector to display your personal media on the seat back’s touchscreen.

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The airplane’s galleys are equipped with induction ovens; which will hopefully change the age-old notion of “airplane food” by cooking up steak, burgers, pizza, and proper Kiwi breakfasts on-demand via Panasonic’s custom In Flight Entertainment system.

Air New Zealand has also created in-flight experiences such as a children’s story-time in the rear galley, and a social galley in the front of the plane that will host wine tasting sessions with an Inflight Concierge.

In a time when most carriers are cutting corners and looking for ways to nickel and dime the passenger, it’s incredibly refreshing to see such forward-thinking features in every class of the cabin. And it’s already paying off for Air New Zealand; more than 30 airlines have expressed interest in licensing the new seat designs after an 18 month period of exclusivity for ANZ.

Check back for updates and full impressions as Gadling joins the inaugural flight of ZK-OKM to LAX and on to Auckland!

Five art exhibitions you must see this year

Art lovers, take note, 2010 is shaping up to be a great year for exhibitions. Here are five of the best, but there are plenty more than these!

Tokyo
It’s hard to beat Japanese art for sheer naturalistic beauty, and the Tokyo National Museum has an extensive collection of the best. See the work of one of the great Japanese masters in Hasegawa Tohaku: 400th Memorial Retrospective. This painter, who died in 1610, specialized in nature and Buddhist subjects, and you can see an example of his work in this post. The delicacy and ethereal quality of Japanese landscapes always gives me goosebumps. The exhibition runs from February 23 to March 22.

Madrid
Spain’s famous Museo Nacional del Prado is hosting The Art of Power: Arms, Armour and Paintings from the Spanish Court. This is a collection of weapons and armor from Spain’s Golden Age, along with paintings by important Spanish artists emphasizing Spain’s military might at a time when the country ruled most of the New World. Many of the suits or armor were the personal property of important kings such as Philip II. The show will be on from March 8 to May 16.

London
From March 4-June 6 the British Museum will have Kingdom of Ife: Sculptures from West Africa. Ife was an important kingdom from the 12th to the 15th centuries in what is now Nigeria. Its artists specialized in creating human sculptures in brass, terracotta, and stone. I caught this when it was in Madrid last year and it was amazed at the level of artistic achievement in a civilization I’m ashamed to say I knew almost nothing about. The thing that most impressed me was how lifelike the sculptures were. I felt like I was staring into the faces of priests and kings who have been dead for five hundred years. My kid preferred the statue of the crocodile god.Paris
For something a bit more grim, go to the Musée d’Orsay between March 15 and June 27 for Crime and Punishment: 1791-1981. The dates refer to the year of the first call in France to abolish the death penalty and the year it was actually abolished. The exhibition is a series of paintings with crime as their theme, by famous artists such as Picasso, Goya, and Magritte. There are also paintings of capital punishment, showing that crime does not pay, at least some of the time. This show is disturbing enough that it comes with a warning label, a bit like the Eros exhibit of ancient erotic art in Athens, which you can still catch until April 5.

New York City
If you want to see something right now, The Museum of Modern Art is showcasing the work of director Tim Burton until April 26. It’s a collection of more than seven hundred drawings, storyboards, puppets, and other items from his films. There’s also a large collection of his personal artwork that even most of his fans have never seen. They’re showing his movies too!

Plane Answers: Zeroing in on a few airplane systems

Welcome to Gadling’s feature, Plane Answers, where our resident airline pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from takeoff to touchdown and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Jason asks:

On a recent round trip on board 757-200s, when we would descend there was a sound like air leaking out of a tire coming from the engine area. It would last from 1-3 minutes in some cases or a matter of seconds at other times. What causes this noise?

Air conditioning and pressurization on an airliner both originate from what’s called bleed-air that comes from the engines. On the 757, as the thrust is reduced to idle for descent, another valve opens allowing ‘high-stage’ bleed air to supplement the existing air.

This hot air is then run through air conditioning “packs” that heat or cool the cabin and provide pressurization.

You may have been hearing the rushing air associated with this valve.

Not being a mechanic, that’s the best explanation I can provide. Any mechanics out there want to tackle this one? Big Ed?

Michael asks:

While working, I flew Northwest from MSP to AMS monthly. When flying DC-10s, the cabin display showed the same flight level the captain reported – 35,000 feet = 35,000 feet. Now flying the A330, the captain reports 35,000 feet but the IFE reports something like 34,824 (a guess, not the actual number). Does the IFE not get its travel info from the plane’s instruments? Since FL350 is about 10,600 meters, does the IFE work in metric units (rounded to the nearest 100 meters) and convert to an exact English equivalent i.e. 34,777 feet?
On older aircraft such as the DC-10, I can’t recall where the inflight entertainment screen pulls the altitude information from, but the newer jets all use GPS data to display the altitude on the map back in the cabin. In addition to locating an airplane’s position on a map, the GPS can also compute an approximate altitude.

Since we refer to an altimeter in the cockpit that’s entirely based on air pressure, our version of 35,000 feet actually varies slightly depending on whether we’re flying through a low or high pressure area.

It’s not important that we’re exactly 35,000 feet above the ground, but it IS important that we’re using the same measurement as all the other aircraft. And this barometric altimeter is considered the most accurate way to establish our altitude relative to all other airplanes.

Down low (below 18,000 feet), we manually correct the altimeters for the variations in pressure with a small knob using a setting provided by air traffic control. This keeps us at a safe and known altitude above the terrain.

So you may notice that the altitude displayed in the cabin while in level flight below 18,000 feet is much closer to a given 1,000 foot measurement, such as 11,000 or 5,000 feet when temporarily leveling off during a climb or descent.

Michael goes on to ask:

Also, the system in the cockpit that warns of impending collision – does it work by getting transponder information from nearby aircraft or is the information derived from the ground? Over the mid-Atlantic, out of ground based radar coverage, is separation dependent on seperation leaving Canada and maintaining a constant Mach number or will the system warn if you are getting too close?

The TCAS system (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) works over the Atlantic, since it uses the transponder of each airplane to decide who, in the case of a controller or pilot mistake, needs to climb and who needs to descend to avoid a collision.

But you’ll almost never hear that warning over the Atlantic since the Gander (Newfoundland) and Shanwick (Shannon, Ireland and Prestwick, Scotland) controllers place aircraft on ‘tracks’ at a proper spacing and altitude that should stay relatively constant with an assigned speed for the crossing.

It’s far more common to receive a TCAS alert while flying domestically or while in Central or South America. And since the introduction of GPS, which has effectively reduced our airways from up to 8 miles wide to a much more narrow .1 of a mile wide due to vastly improved accuracy, TCAS has saved numerous lives already, usually without passengers even knowing it.

Do you have a question about something related to the pointy end of an airplane? Ask Kent and maybe he’ll use it for the next Plane Answers. Check out his other blog, Cockpit Chronicles and travel along with him at work.