Delta’s Upgradable Wireless IFE System Coming to 767-400, A330-900neo and A321neo

Dec 20, 2018

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When I toured Delta’s first Airbus A220 in Atlanta a few weeks back, I knew something about the seatback entertainment system was special. While it’s designed to match the rest of Delta’s fleet, eagle-eyed flyers can spot the physical differences. Turns out, there’s plenty that’s different on the inside as well.

Delta confirmed on Thursday that the industry’s first wireless IFE, powered by Delta and Gogo Vision Touch, will launch on Jan. 31, 2019, as its inaugural A220 flights lift off from New York (LGA). In a nutshell, this removes those awful power and wiring boxes notorious for taking up foot room, as all content will be served over Gogo’s wireless network infrastructure onto commercial-grade tablets installed in seatbacks.

Delta’s first Airbus A220 in Atlanta.

For those curious: no, these aren’t removable tablets. At least, not by passengers. Gogo Vision Touch allows the carrier to pop any individual tablet out of the seat for updates or repairs. Delta’s implementation will save around 1 pound of wiring per seat, which not only benefits the environment (less weight equals less fuel burned) but also the coffers of Delta and its shareholders.

The real news, however, is what’s not yet seen. The new architecture enables Delta to upgrade these entertainment systems with far more agility. In theory, we could see advancements in responsiveness, icon sizing and layout that are implemented with the same lightning fast rigor as Delta’s growing archive of cheeky inflight safety videos. Now that we’re working with tablets based on code that doesn’t have to stay the same for eons, Delta can adapt to customer feedback and viewing trends without bearing the cost of ripping and replacing hardware.

Delta’s new wireless IFE on an Airbus A220.

The airline’s take on wireless IFE was quietly born inside Delta Flight Products — a “wholly owned startup” that began with 10 employees in 2016 and has evolved into a 230+ team today. I had a chance to visit its laboratories earlier this year and take a peek at a wireless IFE unit in development. Rick Salanitri, president at Delta Flight Products, said he wants to “deliver a more interactive and cost-effective inflight entertainment platform that can be easily customized for Delta customers.”

Delta’s new wireless IFE in an Airbus A220 first class cabin.

I’m expecting the wireless IFE to look mostly like every other Delta IFE on launch day, but given the quote above, I suspect that will morph with time. Delta Sky Magazine rotates monthly, Delta’s safety videos are swapped out routinely and even Delta uniforms aren’t forever.

An early software build on the wireless IFE, as seen on an Airbus A220.

In 2019, expect the new wireless IFE parade to continue as Delta takes delivery of the new Airbus A330-900neo — the first Delta jet to feature all cabins: Delta One SuitesDelta Premium Select, Delta Comfort+ and Main Cabin.

Delta’s Airbus A220 features 13.3-inch wireless IFE systems in the first-class cabin.

It’ll also appear on Delta’s Boeing 767-400 fleet, which will undergo a “mid-life interior modernization beginning in 2019.” That retrofit will do more than upgrade the IFE; it’ll “bring them up to flagship standards through the design, integration and production of thousands of parts, and configuring the aircraft with new lavatories, IFE and lighting systems.”

I’ll be onboard two A220 flights on its first day of passenger service, Jan. 31, 2019, to bring you a comprehensive review. That will include a closer look at Delta’s new wireless IFE, from performance to content library and beyond.

All photos by the author.

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