In-flight entertainment

In-flight entertainment

In-Flight entertainment (IFE) refers to the entertainment available to aircraft passengers during a flight. After World War II IFE was delivered in the form of food and drink services, along with an occasional projector movie during lengthy flights. In 1985 the first personal audio player was offered to passengers, along with noise cancelling headphones in 1989 [ History of In Flight Entertainment] World Airline Entertainment Association] . During the 1990s the demand for better IFE was a major factor in the design of aircraft cabins. Before then, the most a passenger could expect was a movie projected on a screen at the front of a cabin, which could be heard via a headphone socket at his or her seat.

Manufacturers of IFE systems include Panasonic Avionics Corporation, Thales Group, Rockwell Collins and LiveTV. Design issues for IFE include system safety, cost efficiency, software reliability, hardware maintenance, and user compatibility.


The first in-flight movie was in 1921 on Aeromarine Airways showing a film called Howdy Chicago to its passengers as the amphibious airplane flew around Chicago. Twelve years later in 1932, the first in-flight television called 'media event' was shown on a Western Air Express Fokker F.10 aircraft.

However, it wasn't until the 1960s that in-flight entertainment was becoming mainstream and popular. In 1961, David Flexer of Inflight Motion Pictures developed the 16mm film system for a wide variety of commercial aircraft. This replaced the previous 30-inch-diameter film reels. It was also in the same year when the first ever feature film titled Love Possessed by MGM was shown on a regular commercial airline flight.

In 1962, Pan American World Airways, then better known as Pan Am, was the first airline to use television monitors on its planes. The television monitors were installed in the first class section of the Lockheed L-10 Electra. However, to that date all forms of in-flight entertainment were only being shown on domestic flights. The first airline in the world to show in-flight movies on an international route was Pakistan International Airlines which was in the same year. [ [ History of PIA - Pakistan International Airlines ] ]

In 1963, AVID Airline Products developed and manufactured the first pneumatic headset used on-board the airlines and provided these early headsets to Trans World Airlines. These early systems consisted of in-seat audio that could be heard with hollow tube headphones. It wasn't until 1979 when pneumatic headsets were replaced by electronic headsets. The electronic headsets were initially available only on selected flights and premium cabins whereas economy class still had to do with the old pneumatic headsets.

In 1971, the United States Transportation Command developed the 8mm film cassette. Flight attendants could now change movies in-flight and add short subject programming.

In 1975, Braniff International Airways introduced Atari video games to be played on-board flights.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, CRT-based projectors began to appear on newer widebody aircraft, such as the Boeing 767. Some airlines upgraded the old film IFE systems to the CRT-based systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s on some of their older widebodies. In 1985, Avicom introduced the first audio player system, based on the Philips Tape Cassette technology. Around the same time, CRT-based displays began to appear over the aisles of narrowbody and widebody aircraft. In 1988, the Airvision company introduced the first in-seat audio/video on-demand systems using 2.7 inch LCD technology for Northwest Airlines. The trials which were run by Northwest Airlines on its Boeing 747 fleet received overwhelming positive passenger reaction. As a result, this completely replaced the CRT technology.

Today, In-flight entertainment is offered as an option on almost all wide body aircraft, while some narrow body aircraft are not equipped with any form of In-flight entertainment at all. This is mainly due to the aircraft storage and weight limits. The Boeing 757 was the first narrow body aircraft to widely feature both audio and video In-flight entertainment and today it is rare to find a Boeing 757 without an In-flight entertainment system. Most Boeing 757s feature ceiling-mounted CRT screens, although some newer 757s may feature drop-down LCDs. Many Airbus A320 series and Boeing 737NG aircraft are also equipped with drop-down LCD screens. Some airlines, such as WestJet and Delta Air Lines, have equipped some narrow body aircraft with personal video screens at every seat. Others, such as Air Canada and JetBlue, have even equipped some regional jets with audio-video on demand (AVOD).

ystem safety and regulation

One major obstacle in creating an In-flight entertainment system is system safety. With the sometimes miles of wiring involved, voltage leaks and arcing become a problem. To contain any possible issues, the In-flight entertainment system is typically isolated from the aircraft's main systems. In the United States, in order for a company's product to be considered safe and reliable, it must be certified by the FAA and pass all of the applicable requirements found in the Federal Aviation Regulations. The concerning section, or title, dealing with the aviation industry and the electronic systems embedded in the aircraft, is CFR title 14 part 25. Contained inside Part 25 are rules relating to the aircraft's electronic system [ [ Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 25] Federal Aviation Administration, Tuesday April 10 2007] .

There are two major codes that regulate in-flight entertainment systems and their safety: code 1301 which approves the electronic equipment for installation and use, by assuring that the system in question is properly labeled, and that its design is appropriate to its intended function [ [ Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 25 Code 1301] Federal Aviation Administration, Tuesday April 10 2007] . Code 1309 states that the electrical equipment must not alter the safety or functionality of the aircraft upon the result of a failure [ [ Code of Federal Regulations Title 14 Part 25 Code 1309] Federal Aviation Administration, Tuesday April 10 2007] . In order for the intended IFE system to pass this code, it must be independent from that of the aircraft's main power source and processor. By separating the power supplies and data links from that of the aircraft's performance processor, in the event of a failure the system is self sustained, and can not alter the functionality of the aircraft. Upon the completion of all applicable codes the In-flight entertainment system is up to standards for use in the United States, however the rules and regulations may be different when applying for use in other countries.

The 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 is an example of an installation of an in-flight entertainment system that started an emergency. The MD-11's aftermarket in-flight entertainment caught on fire, destroyed aircraft systems, and incapacitated the flight crew, causing the aircraft to crash into the Atlantic Ocean.

Cost efficiency

The companies involved are in a constant battle to cut costs of production, without cutting the systems quality and compatibility. Cutting production cost consists of anything from altering the housing for personal televisions, to reducing the amount of embedded software in the In-flight entertainment processor. Difficulties with cost are also present with the customers, or airlines, looking to purchase In-flight entertainment systems. Most In-flight entertainment systems are purchased by existing airlines as an upgrade package to an existing fleet of aircraft. This cost can be anywhere from $2 Million-$5 Million for seat back LCD monitors, with an embedded IFE system [ [ In Flight Entertainment Goes High Tech] Digital Journal, Tuesday April 10 2007] . Some of the IFE systems are being purchased already installed in a new aircraft, such as the Airbus A320 [ [ Airbus A-320 Family] Airbus A-320 Family] , which eliminates the possibility of having upgrade difficulties. Some airlines are passing the cost directly into the customers ticket price, while some are charging a user fee based on an individual customers use. Some are also attempting to get a majority of the cost paid for by advertisements on, around, and in their IFE.

oftware reliability

Software for In-flight entertainment systems must be aesthetically pleasing, reliable, compatible, and also must be user friendly. These restrictions account for expensive engineering of individually specific software. In-flight entertainment equipment is often touch screen sensitive, allowing interaction between each seat in the aircraft and the flight attendants, which is wireless in some systems. Along with a complete aircraft intranet to deal with, the software of the In-flight entertainment system must be reliable when communicating to and from the main In-flight entertainment processor. These additional requirements not only place an additional strain on the software engineers, but also on the price. Programming errors can slip through the testing phases of the software and cause problems. [ [ How to Crash an In Flight Entertainment System] CSO the Resource for Security Executives, Tuesday April 10 2007]

Varieties of in-flight entertainment

Audio entertainment

Audio entertainment covers music, as well as news, information and comedy. Most music channels are pre-recorded and feature their own DJs to provide chatter, song introductions and interviews with artists. In addition, there is sometimes a channel devoted to the plane's radio communications, allowing passengers to listen in on the pilot's in-flight conversations with other planes and ground stations.

In audio-video on demand (AVOD) systems, software such as MusicMatch is used to select music off the music server. Phillips Music Server is one of the most widely used servers running under Windows Media Center used to control AVOD systems.

This form of in-flight entertainment is experienced through headphones that are distributed to the passengers. The headphone plugs are usually only compatible with the audio socket on the passenger's armrest (and vice-versa), and some airlines may charge a small fee in order to obtain a pair. The headphones provided can also be used for the viewing of personal televisions.

In-flight entertainment systems have been made compatible with XM Satellite Radio, and also with iPods, allowing passengers to access their accounts, or bring their own music, along with offering libraries of full audio CDs from an assortment of artists [ [ Apple Teams Up With In Flight Entertainment] Apple Computer,Tuesday April 10 2007] .

Video entertainment

Video entertainment is provided via a large video screen at the front of a cabin section, as well as smaller monitors situated every few rows above the aisles. Sound is supplied via the same headphones distributed for audio entertainment.

However, personal televisions (PTVs) for every passenger are providing passengers with channels broadcasting new and classic films, as well as comedies, documentaries, children's shows and drama series. Some airlines also present news and current affairs programming, which are often pre-recorded and delivered in the early morning before flights commence.

PTVs are operated via an In flight Management System which stores pre-recorded channels on a central server, and streams them to PTV equipped seats during flight. AVOD systems store individual programs separately, allowing a passenger to have a specific program streamed to them privately, and be able to control the playback.

Some airlines also provide video games as part of the video entertainment system. For example, Singapore Airlines passengers on some flights have access to a number of Super Nintendo games as part of its "KrisWorld" entertainment system. Also Virgin America's new "RED" Entertainment System offers passengers internet gaming over a Linux-based operating system. "RED" also provides an open source gaming link, so passengers who are experienced in writing games can upload certain created games to the server [ [ Virgin America's RED Entertainment System] Engadget, Tuesday April 10 2007] .

In-flight movies

Regularly scheduled in flight movies began to premiere in 1961 on flights from New York to Los Angeles [ [ First in Flight Movie] Trivia Library, Tuesday April 10 2007] . Personal on-demand videos are stored in an aircraft main IFE computer system. From there they can be viewed on demand by the user. Along with the on-demand concept comes the ability for the user to pause, rewind, fast forward, or jump to any point in the movie. There are also the movies that are shown throughout the aircraft at one time, usually on a screen in the front of the cabin.

Personal televisions

Most major airlines have now installed personal televisions (otherwise known as PTVs) for every passenger on most long-haul routes. These televisions are usually located in the seat-backs or tucked away in the armrests for front row seats and first class. Some show direct broadcast satellite television which enables passengers to view live TV broadcasts. Some airlines also offer video games using PTV equipment.

Audio-video on demand (AVOD) entertainment has also been introduced. This enables passengers to pause, rewind, fast-forward or stop a program that they have been watching. This is in contrast to older entertainment systems where no interactivity is provided for. AVOD also allows the passengers to choose among movies stored in the aircraft computer system.

It is rare to find new long-haul planes being delivered without PTV's.

In addition to the personal televisions that are installed in the seatbacks, a new portable media player (PMP) revolution is under way. There are two types available: commercial off the shelf (COTS) based players, and proprietary players. PMPs can be handed out and collected by the cabin crew, or can be "semi-embedded" into the seatback or seat arm. In both of these scenarios, the PMP can pop in and out of an enclosure built into the seat, or an arm enclosure.

In-Flight Games

Video games are another emerging facet of in-flight entertainment. Some game systems are networked to allow interactive playing by multiple passengers.

Later generations of IFE games began to shift focus from pure entertainment to learning while you play. The best example of this changing trend is Berlitz Word Traveler that allows passengers to learn a new language in their own language. Appearing as a mixture of lessons and mini games, passengers can learn the basics of a new language while being entertained. Many more learning applications continue to appear in the IFE market.

Moving-map systems

A moving-map system is a real-time flight information video channel broadcast through PTVs and cabin video screens. In addition to displaying a map that illustrates the position and direction of the plane, the system gives altitude, airspeed, distance to destination, distance from origination and local time. Moving-map system information is derived from the aircraft's flight computer systems. It is often generically referred to as Airshow, one of the first moving-map systems now owned by Rockwell Collins [ [ Airshow 4200] Rockwell Collins, Tuesday April 10 2007] . Panasonic Avionics Corporation now offers a similar product known as iXPLOR on their latest IFE systems. Honeywell also offers a similar product known as JetMap.

Data communication

IFE producers have begun to introduce Intranet type systems. Virgin America's "RED" Entertainment System allows for passengers to chat amongst one another, compete against each other in the provided games, talk to the flight attendants and request, and pay for in advance, food or drinks, and have full access to the internet and email.


Several airlines are testing in-cabin wi-fi systems. In-flight internet service is provided either through a satellite network or an air-to-ground network. [ [ In-flight Internet: Grounded for life?] CNET, Friday January 25 2008] . In the Airbus A380 aircraft, data communication via satellite system will allow passengers to connect to live Internet from the individual IFE units or their laptops via the in-flight Wi-Fi access. [ [ Airlines currently working on in-flight wi-fi access include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, jetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Virgin America. Can I get on-line in the new Airbus A380?] Airport WiFi Guide, Monday June 25 2007] .


External links

* [ World Airline Entertainment Association]
* [ Code of Federal Regulations Title 14(Aeronautics and Space)]

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