Interiors giant B/E Aerospace keeps IFEC on radar

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B/E Aerospace has given what could very well be its first public indication yet that the aircraft interiors company would entertain potential acquisition and/or partnership opportunities in the inflight entertainment and connectivity space.

Last year, B/E co-founder, executive chairman and CEO Amin Khoury said acquiring an IFE business would be “way outside, conceptually” of the firm’s focus on aircraft interiors. But in an interview with Runway Girl Network, B/E Aerospace corporate VP strategy & marketing Paul-Ernest Cheron said, “There is no pressure from our customers or OEMs that [we] need to provide this solution. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to do it.

“We’re managing our portfolio to see where we can provide the best offering to our customers and working with them to understand their needs and requirements so that’s always something that we look at. Connectivity is something very high on the list.”

Over the last few years, B/E rival Zodiac Aerospace has engaged in an acquisition spree, buying engineering services firm Northwest Aerospace Technologies (NAT) and inflight entertainment specialist The IMS Company, which it renamed Zodiac Inflight Innovations (Zii). Later, Zii acquired TriaGnoSys, whose software enables airline passengers to use their mobile phones and Internet during flights, and confirmed it had submitted proposals to airlines to include Ka-band satellite-supported connectivity from ViaSat.

Explaining the benefit of adding assets such as NAT and IMS, Zodiac senior advisor Americas, Alinh Hoang last year told me that it “is good for us is to be self-contained in the turnkey cabin proposal”.

But B/E’s Cheron suggests the jury “is still out” on whether the industry wants interiors firms to provide a complete cabin solution “or have experts working together”.

Furthermore, he notes, “While some competitors [i.e. Zodiac] do have IFE providers in their branch of activities, that could trigger some conflict internally, and I can understand some IFE companies [not wanting to] provide too much detail on their products when they’re providing information to companies that have a direct competitor.” Indeed, now that the FAA requires IFE firms to supply reams of data to seat suppliers before integrated IFE/seat can be shopped to the OEMs, and in light of Zodiac’s move into IFEC, one can see why it’s essential to have clear non-disclosure agreements in place for both sides.

Without talking specifics, Honeywell confirms that it has engaged in dialog with aircraft interiors firms and is willing to discuss introducing Global Xpress Ka-band connectivity as part of broader packages. “We talk about this hockey stick, and passing this threshold and the expectations of connectivity on the airplane and the demand for it. The fact that the cabin interiors people are waking up to the requirement is a big indication of that. The whole dynamic of that has changed in just the last couple of years. From our point of view we’re ready, eager and able to talk to anybody who has great ideas to bring the whole thing together to bring a better solution to the customer and the cabin,” says John Broughton, director, marketing and product management for Honeywell.

Aircraft interiors firms will ultimately offer complete cabins to airframers to keep pace with increased aircraft production, predicts an industry insider. “It will definitely happen; it has to happen. Basically it reduces cost so it’s one big package. Think of a car; everything is integrated, and it should run more efficiently. That’s the final step in my opinion. If an interior company, Zodiac for instance, is doing it all, they can control a lot. For instance, there is always a battle between interiors and IFE; it never runs smoothly.

“A simple thing like shielding a cable can be an ordeal. For instance, one of the top IFE suppliers does not shield cables because it costs more money. What it means is that when you run power and data separately [in the seat], you have to put an extra shield on the power cable after the fact, which costs the seat suppliers more money. So just little details like that affect everything.”

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