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…