Power play: energizing passengers’ devices5 minutes
5G is on its way and its many capabilities are expected to benefit the mobile lifestyle including inflight travel. Imagine the possibilities: exploring the aircraft via virtual reality, downloading a movie in seconds, or transferring data in real-time at 32,000 feet. All this hyperconnected internet awesomeness means more travelers will be using more personal electronic devices than ever before. This rise in electronic devices presents airlines with a unique challenge: How to keep customers happy by maximizing the onboard power supply — without straining flight-critical systems. Already airlines are working on ways to keep passengers plugged in throughout flights, and face some complicated issues. For instance, what kind of power system to install.
Passengers are traveling with devices that require a variety of outlets: 115V AC and high power USB outlets are most common, but wireless charging such as Qi is also getting some attention.
The right connections
According to SITA’s 2017 Passenger Trends IT Survey, the vast majority of airline passengers fly with at least one electronic device, and more than half carry two or more devices.
Meanwhile, consumer trends show that while laptops – which require AC outlets — are still popular with a large number of flyers, most passengers use one or more USB-enabled devices during their journey.
Does that mean getting rid of AC power altogether? Not necessarily, says Panasonic Avionics Product Marketing Manager Gary Kaplan. He explains that AC power still has a role to play in powering thirsty laptops. What’s changing the game is the development of USB Type-C power outlets. These allow larger tablets to be used inflight and also support fast-charging for smartphones.
Figuring out what power outlets will work in the future is one challenge. Another is overall power distribution. Aircraft electrical supply is limited – so ensuring critical aircraft operations is a top priority.
For safety reasons, original-equipment manufacturers set limits on the power distributed to passenger applications. Aircraft power-management systems dynamically distribute the power supply to seats; during periods of peak demand, power will go into “restricted mode” by cutting-off supply to non-critical electrical equipment.
In Panasonic’s case, the company works with manufacturers to ensure its equipment offers optimal power delivery and aircraft safety, while keeping as many passengers plugged-in as possible throughout the flight.