Free aviation consulting

It’s been reported that the major cause for the delay in Airbus A380 deliveries is that the entertainment systems are enormously complicated, require millions of miles of cabling to be squeezed into the aircraft, and are completely different for different airlines so there’s a risk of serious screw-ups if staff work on two different configuration types at the same time.

This means that not only is everything taking than expected, but each airline needs to have all its planes built in series – so Emirates won’t get any planes until all of Singapore’s are finished, and Virgin won’t get any until Emirates’s are done. And this means that Airbus is having to give everyone massive compensation while losing credibility for future business.

Since Airbus is effectively French, this doesn’t matter too much: as with Alstom and every other sizeable industrial concern, the French taxpayer will pay if the business runs into serious financial trouble (yes, I know it’s supposed to be a joint venture, but if a business is even a bit French, that’s good enough for them…). However, it’s a bit of a shame to let everything go so wrong when the solution is so obvious.

Instead of installing a wired entertainment system, set up a wireless network covering the whole plane. Since laptops have wi-fi enabled by default, the plane will have already gone through detailed testing to ensure that wi-fi doesn’t interfere with the plane’s systems. Keep the power supplies from the current wire specification, and junk everything else.

Then you can put a networked computer (with a friendly operating system, obviously) at every seat, providing audio and video via a library on a networked server, plus web access. Popular choices can be stored locally to cut the strain on the network. Anyone with a laptop can connect to the wi-fi too, like on trains.

The terminals for this should cost far less than $500 a seat, or $40,000 for the whole plane – and they’re the only cost incurred under this scheme that wouldn’t be incurred anyway. Because the whole system is software-based, airlines can customise and upgrade it easily. Customers get a better experience and everyone, except Boeing, is happy.

So why aren’t they doing it? My guess is that the aviation industry is run by grizzled veterans who don’t really have a clue about this wireless malarkey. So nobody involved with the whole business, either Airbus or airlines, has even thought about going beyond the traditional ‘wires and dumb terminals’ model. If you happen to be an airline bigwig or hang out with them, do feel free to pass this one on…

8 thoughts on “Free aviation consulting”

  1. No reason even to use wireless — just run ethernet to each seat. Yes, planes for different carriers have different seat layouts, but the differences are pretty trivial and it doesn't greatly matter which wire goes where as long as each seat is plugged in to the ethernet somewhere. You could even ship the planes with a surplus of ethernet sockets (i.e., at least one per seat in the densest configuration) and leave it up to the carriers to plug each seat in.

    Probably there's some bollocks safety reason this wouldn't be allowed.

  2. Agreed, but proving Ethernet would involve adding stuff to the current wiring spec rather than just taking it out. For safety/bureacracy reasons [*], this rapidly becomes Very Difficult And Expensive.

    [*] to be fair to the industry, there is at least one recorded case of a malfunctioning entertainment system starting a fire which led to a crash where everyone died, so you can see why they're a little cautious about these things.

  3. I am suspecting that putting even a tiny ickle radio transmitter onto a plane would also require quite a bit of bureaucratic wrangling to prove to the satisfaction of the aviation authorities that it absolutely positively certainly could not cause any interference with anything important on the flight deck.

  4. Agreed, but remember the point above that I'm assuming all modern avionics are tested to not be interfered with by wi-fi band transmissions anyway. Therefore, you stick a radio transmitter transmitting at all the relevant frequency at 100x the power your device will be capped at, and if anything goes wrong (remember they've built the physical plane with the physical control systems already, so checking this would be effectively costless) you scrap the idea.

    Another possible conclusion from the paragraph above is that they have, and it hasn't worked (either, and I find this incredibly unlikely, I'm wrong about all new planes being forced to undergo tests to see if laptop wi-fi risks buggering them up, or interference things are more significant than I believe them to be, in which case I'm wrong and I withdraw my criticisms).

  5. WLAN has been certified for aeronautical use. Boeing's Connexion ISP-in-the-sky put several WLAN access points in each aircraft, with satellite backhaul, assigned a little netblock to each, and reannounced the block from their locations on each continent via BGP as the planes travelled. (And it worked – I used it, and damned cool it was too.)

    Alternatively, I wonder how much of the wiring could be replaced with an Ethernet ring. It's pretty robust technology, and you could always run three lots of cat five everywhere.

  6. Hi.
    Lloyd – is that you?
    I'm not quite sure, but wasn't your Band called John B?
    If you are LloydR – contact me. If not, contact me anyway and tell me you're not LloyD. Thx.

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