US Airways completes first Lumexis flight
The potentially revolutionary FTTS fibreoptic-based IFE system from Lumexis made its maiden flight yesterday on a US Airways Airbus A320 (Inflight Online, January 3).
“The test was 100 per cent successful, demonstrating flawless audio/video-on-demand to 150 seats,” reports George Smallhorn, president of installation designer Inflight Canada of Montreal. “That must be nearly unprecedented in the history of in-seat inflight entertainment.”
Lumexis claims that FTTS (Fibre-to-the-Screen) is cheaper, lighter, more compact and more powerful than any competing product. The company says it offers significantly lower cost of ownership, along with enough bandwidth to accommodate current emerging applications and even more demanding ones in the future.
The A320 was airborne for two hours, on a round trip from Rome, New York State, where the system was installed in a 23-day campaign starting on January 5. The work was carried out by modification company Empire Aero Centre under the supervision of Inflight Canada, which designed the installation and provided kits comprising the cable clamps and other elements.
“This was the best, shortest and most successful prototype installation of a major AVOD system, including seat and monument modifications, that we have ever been involved in,” says Smallhorn. “FTTS and its installation provision came together with a complete lack of system issues.”
Smallhorn attributes the result to a combination of good design and planning and the professional assistance of the US Airways engineering and maintenance groups. “I believe that for a fleet fit we could get the time from receipt of aircraft to release to service down to seven days,” he says.
Yesterday’s test flight followed full power-up and functional and FAA-mandated ground testing on January 28 – “The system performed perfectly from the start,” says Smallhorn. The aircraft was released to service after the flight and has since returned to its Phoenix, Arizona, base to re-enter revenue service.
An FTTS-based IFE service is being offered on every flight. Specially trained flight attendants explain and promote the system to passengers, and full usage data is downloaded to the airline’s operations centre after landing. The EV-DO cellular-based Secure Data Bridge facility that supports this data-gathering was tried out during the FAA-mandated test flight. “The transmissions were received and recorded accurately by US Airways in Phoenix and did not interfere in any way with the other avionics on board,” Smallhorn comments.
In a typical commercial operation Secure Data Bridge would be used to cache credit-card transaction data and after landing transmit it along with user and system maintenance data to the airline’s IT centre. No information is currently transmitted from the air, though Lumexis is working with third-party satellite and terrestrial communications providers to provide interfaces for real-time air-to-ground transmission and reception.
The US Airways evaluation is designed to put to the test the ability of FTTS to deliver cost and weight reductions, operational durability and the potential for ancillary revenue generation. The carrier has not committed to any further installations beyond the trials A320. But Lumexis is optimistic that the US Airways effort will lead to business, whether with the Phoenix-based major or with some of the other airlines that have seen what the system can do.
While FTTS was designed originally with the single-aisle and widebody markets in mind, its light weight and reduced volume are beginning to attract the attention of the regional jet community. Among the manufacturers showing interest is Bombardier, which has asked Lumexis to quote for a CRJ installation.
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