Everything you need to know about IFEC
The onboard experience is defined by In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) which allows passengers to sit back, relax and stay connected. With constant innovation, this sector of the airline industry supply chain is continuing to grow. Find out more about IFEC and the latest trends below.
What does IFEC mean?
In-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) can best be explained as the compound of the two areas of onboard services that it incorporates:
- IFC (In-flight connectivity): any onboard technology using an internet connection
- IFE (In-flight entertainment): any onboard options for passenger entertainment
- IFEC (In-flight entertainment and connectivity): any onboard solution that includes both IFC and IFE
And, with the introduction of geostationary (GEO) satellite and air-to-ground (ATG) networks, online connectivity while airborne has quickly become not only an expectation for passengers, but a necessity.
The aircraft cabin interiors market size is expected to grow from USD 24.8 billion in 2022 to USD 36.4 billion by 2027.
The origin of IFEC
In-flight entertainment refers to the entertainment on offer to passengers to consume during travel. The demand for better IFE has, for the past thirty-years-or-so, also been an influencing factor in the design of aircraft cabins.
In-flight entertainment systems originally consisted of little more than food and drink. As onboard and interior innovations advanced, however, in-flight movies were integrated, usually shown on a central screen at the top of aisles.
More recently, IFE included the advent of embedded LCD display monitors in the back of seat headrests. But as data storage capacity improved, the media offerings aboard aeroplanes were also able to expand. With the introduction of this and newer ancillary hardware (like the move from pneumatic to electronic headphones), IFE expanded to include:
- Moving map displays
- Multiple movies
- And more recently, streaming
Which begs the questions - what, is classed as an in-flight entertainment systems? And why is connectivity so important to a comprehensive onboard offering?
What products are included in IFEC
As the scope of onboard leisure activities has widened, the amount of software and hardware that supports these activities has increased.
In-flight entertainment and connectivity now covers a range of products and services including:
- Broadband for use in passenger, cabin or crew operations
- Built-in displays for streaming entertainment
- Any ATG data services
- Onboard internet browsing, text messaging, and even cell phone usage
- Wireless streaming services
But there is also hardware that isn’t airlined-owned which still allows for in-flight connectivity. Namely, portable electronic devices (PEDs). The ubiquity of smartphones has allowed users to access both entertainment and connectivity from apps without the need for seatback screens.
Passengers can now access audio-video on demand (AVOD) from third-party or even airline-owned applications. Meanwhile, expectations are constantly raising the bar for what’s expected on even short haul or regional flights where aircraft aren’t fitted with in-built systems.
So, who are the companies providing these solutions to airlines?
Companies that provide IFEC
Lufthansa Technik’s >>nice<< HD system offers 4K screens in a wide range of sizes to suit various aircraft and cabin layouts. But it’s also “more than a suite of components”. The fully-integrated ‘nice’ app also allows for streaming on PEDs.
Since 2003, modular, highly flexible IFEC products in the nice range have been used by premium class travellers from royalty to business leaders and corporate flight departments around the globe.
The French multinational company not only develops and manufactures electrical systems for the aerospace sector, but also devices and equipment.
They currently offer a seatback IFE system as well as in-cabin wireless streaming to PEDs and in-flight connectivity services.
Now the expectation is to have that “in office” or “at home” experience - to be able to stream entertainment; to be able to do legitimate and productive office work. That has gone from a novelty to an expectation.
Over the last couple of years, especially now and fueled and accelerated by the pandemic, we saw that IFEC systems are also being used to boost ancillary sales as well. These things nicely come together as a cabin innovation that allows passengers to order goods and services and enjoy content.
Panasonic offers a range of connectivity bundles to airlines from simple text and browsing to high-speed streaming. They also have an expansive portfolio of interactive media content and services including:
- PED control of seatback IFE
- Their companion app
- Digitised publication to replace seatback materials
All of which the brand sees as key to getting customers back onboard.
AirFi is a global leader in portable IFE and inflight retailing technology for airlines. They offer a full suite of flexible and low capex solutions that enable streaming IFE, enhanced crew efficiency, third-party commercial integrations and a healthier bottom line to enable “A Mall in the Sky” for airlines and their passengers.
ThinKom is a leading designer and manufacturer of innovative IFC antenna systems. Based on patented VICTS technology, its aero phased arrays are interoperable among LEO, MEO, GEO and HEO satellite constellations.
ThinKom’s antenna systems are thoroughly proven and are the lowest profile, commercially available phased arrays in the world.
Why is IFEC so important?
77% of passengers have said that connectivity is important to them when travelling by aircraft, from economy to business and first class; and for short- and long-haul flights.
And as IFE and IFC have been condensed into one all-purpose offering, high-end connectivity has become just as important as in-flight entertainment and cabin management systems.
State-of-the-art IFEC systems offer both passengers and cabin crew the most advanced environment possible to provide seamless online access in the air.
Through onboard connectivity, passengers can now receive a much more personalised experience before their flight as well. They can select entertainment and get real-time info on their flight while still in transit.
Customers need a relatable measure to compare the value of inflight connectivity systems. Peak speeds don’t describe what you can actually do when connected, experiencing the service on a typical flight is the ultimate test.
Director of aircraft Connectivity, Honeywell Aerospace
Users of IFEC systems can edit their dashboards, content scope, control cabin functions and even use some systems for on-board shopping. With proper connectivity, passengers can also remain productive even while in the air, which opens the door for massive business jet and business class application.
Take Paris-based La Compagnie, who have deployed free Viasat Wi-Fi across their Airbus and Boeing fleet for New York—Paris flights.
For passengers IFEC can:
- Enrich the passenger experience
- Streamline the onboard experience from home to in-air
- Remove roadblocks to onboard buying with easy devices payments
For airlines IFEC can:
- Boost work efficiency for cabin crew
- Allow for in-built testing of new products and offerings
- Maintain and secure information like flight logs and info as well as air-to-ground (ATG) communications
More comprehensive IFEC offerings will improve passenger experience, make onboard operations more efficient and allow for revenue generation and new streams via payments made on PEDs.
Lastly, in a post-pandemic world, the ability to control interfaces from personal devices allows for a reduction in interaction between passengers and both IFE hardware and cabin crew.
With such obvious and widespread applications, both for new fleets and retrofitting, what do upcoming IFEC trends look like?
The future of IFEC
In the coming years it will be up to airlines’ discretion as to whether in-flight entertainment and connectivity will be included in the ticket price or will be available for purchase.
As such, there will be opportunities for airlines to have various IFEC offerings on the same aircraft separated by certain tiers. This is already fairly commonplace, for example, with 4K screens on rotatable arms in business and first class versus seatback screens in economy.
With the emergence of the trends mentioned above, these tiers and offerings may become even more diverse.
More IFEC Trends
We’ve mentioned how the stream audio-visual on demand (AVOD) to passengers’ portable electronic devices (PEDs) has become a chief concern in this sector. It allows for users to customise entertainment offerings before flying and increases the number of touchpoints between brand and user.
From a revenue-saving perspective, this would also allow for the arrival of the “ifec aircraft” that doesn’t, technically, have any in-flight entertainment hardware in the cabin interior.
With this potential move towards a more software-based model for an IFEC system, it’s unsurprising that we’re seeing more airlines developing their own apps and interfaces. A full suite of movie licensing alone for a whole fleet can cost millions of dollars a year.
With airline-owned media, like Singapore Airline’s KrisWorld, the ability to offer credits and create customised reward systems is opened up. Embedded devices may still remain for the foreseeable future - but the question becomes, in what form? We could well see more retrofitting similar to Singapore Airlines with the development of their own IFE systems.
VR and AR
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) offer the ability to introduce a whole new category of cabin products. With augmented reality, passengers could browse onboard shopping with digital offerings like seeing how a watch would look on them.
While VR opens the door for in-flight gaming and a whole host of more immersive viewing experiences, the functionality to have these offered more widely aboard larger and commercial aircraft hasn’t yet been reached.
A recent case study from Inflight VR in conjunction with airline carrier SunExpress, did see take up rates of VR as high as 100% on a segment of flights with an onboard offering. They also recorded satisfaction approval ratings of between 75%-83% (based on value of money and ease-of-use, respectively).
Safety & personalisation
One of the arguments against fitting entire fleets with VR headsets is that of safety concerns.
This will need to consider:
- The safety of data and content on these systems
- Layered protections and patching to address vulnerabilities
- The security of Wi-Fi (WPA-2) networks used by airline crew
That’s why IFEC providers such as Thales and Panasonic have started to leverage security insights and support from across their whole group. The former has even started offering it as a service/tool to airlines.
Safety for in-flight systems also refers to physical safety for both passengers and crew. As mentioned, the removal of unnecessary interaction during onboard buying; perhaps by making this process more efficient with the ability to send text/voice messages when connected to IFE, is paramount in a post-pandemic world.
This also allows for the implementation of a better-personalised, more responsive management system to attend to passengers’ needs.
With the further stripping back of amenities and IFE hardware aboard budget airlines, the move to AVOD on PEDs can still be at the forefront of positive customer experience. It should be noted, however, that even budget airlines are now improving their IFEC offerings.
So, with the future of airline cabin interiors and design destined to be tied to physical in-flight entertainment systems, where can you view the latest offerings?
IFEC Zone at AIX
If you’re looking for IFEC products, come and see, touch and test the latest at AIX’s dedicated IFEC Zone. Discover cutting-edge connectivity and in-flight entertainment systems from more than 50 exhibiting companies who deliver business solutions that positively impact the airline’s:
- and operational requirements
Explore an entire zone dedicated to content service providers, AVOD, BYOD, global communication, connectivity solutions, IFE and cabin management systems.
The return to an in-person event was so important in truly appreciating the different materials being used, the thought put into the design, as well as gaining a more rounded understanding of what the product can offer. This was aided immensely by attending the numerous product launches by seat manufacturers, such as Recaro, Stelia and TSI. It is such an educational experience, an institution.
I gained so many insights into the customer experience and gained new perspectives on IFE and connectivity. Communication was second nature, and it was well-set up to build relationships with suppliers - my main objective. It’s a one-stop-shop for the aircraft interiors industry!
It's essential for Eclipse Global Connectivity and Eclipse Technics to exhibit at AIX because of the presence of major customers looking for IFEC solutions. Since the show provides a focus on connectivity with a dedicated hall, attendees know exactly where to come to find the connectivity experts.
I’ve met with so many interesting suppliers who will help me with upcoming projects. As my focus is on IFE, it’s been great to meet with so many relevant companies. There is so much innovation on display, and the chance to meet with my peers has been priceless.
Frequently Asked Questions
IFEC stands for In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity and refers to any onboard solution that covers both IFC (in-flight connectivity) and IFE (in-flight entertainment). This may range from movie and streaming options to onboard WiFi.
Inflight entertainment systems are anything that allows for onboard entertainment and connectivity. These may range from an operational system like an air-to-ground (ATG) network to hardware like LCD monitors in seat headrests.
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