Airbus proposes ‘Virtual Cockpit Experience’ for IFE

Rotation

With tens of millions of flight simulator fans for computer games and online, flying passengers might be entertained by a ‘Virtual Cockpit Experience’ delivered live at their seat.

In a recent patent application, Airbus has proposed just that: a processing unit for providing the passenger with a compilation of aircraft information such as cockpit video, external video, audio communication, avionics read-out and navigation information.

Patent IFE in-seatThe justification for the service is interesting. “In recent years, not only airport, but also onboard security has increased dramatically. For example, passengers are no longer allowed to visit the cockpit during flight. Many people, however, are fascinated by flight and the process of flying and they increasingly removed from the magic of the process,” says Airbus.

Although video feed from the cockpit is not new, from American Airlines DC-10s in the 1970s to externally mounted cameras on the A380, professional pilots are generally against the idea of having someone watching them fly. For the passengers, it is the opposite. The cockpit voice channel (“Channel  9” on United) has been a popular IFE feature with aviation enthusiasts, though it is not always switched on or available.

Airbus mentions a continuous “fascination and interest in flight from a cockpit perspective… and an increasing demand to bring the fascination of flight to the seated passengers themselves during flight in a realistic manner.”

Yet, with news emerging this week that cyber security researcher Ruben Santamarta claims to have discovered a way to hack aircraft avionics through inflight entertainment and connectivity systems, it’s unclear if a virtual cockpit experience would add to security questions and concerns.

About the author, Ludo Van Vooren

LudoAn aerospace eBusiness consultant, Ludo Van Vooren harnesses the power of Internet and social media to improve aerospace businesses.

You can find him @LudoZone on Twitter.

 

 

5 Comments

  1. jetcal1

    I believe the DC-10 units were shutdown after AA 191. Not sure that anything other than a generic map display is a good idea.

  2. “discovered a way to hack aircraft avionics through inflight entertainment and connectivity systems”

    As newer aircraft are coming out with shared data buses and proposals to route ACARS & other “health” information through the same satellite systems as on board IFE/WiFi are using, the likelihood of being able to get access to the aircraft’s brain increases dramatically. Even just being able to read the stream of data can be enough, let alone being able to modify it or even block it (a single “noisy” transmitter can take out an entire WiFi system simply by preventing others from getting a word in).

    The only true security for modern aircraft is physical isolation from the passenger/cabin experience. An “Air Gap” does wonders for network security but increases the onboard systems, cost to install & maintain, weight, etc. Naturally, the airlines don’t want to pay for this so until an aircraft is hacked out of the sky we’ll see more and more shared systems with a reliance on firewalls for security.

    The ding-dong battle between security developers and hackers often means that firewalls are not as secure as many would like. Given the certification process required to deploy updates to aircraft logic, any gaps in a firewall could be present & exploitable for some time after discovery.

    Mind you, given the latest public revelations about the relatively easy access to a 777’s brain space, perhaps there are other issues to be addressing before getting too worried about hacking into an aircraft via the IFE/WiFi. Physical access to a system trumps cracking a firewall every time 🙂

    PS I too would enjoy having a “virtual cockpit” system as it would give me TWO reasons to use IFE (moving map & virtual cockpit 🙂 ). Mind you, if such a system were present on QF32, I’m sure the pilots would have been turning it off as soon as the engine blew up (passengers were using the tail-camera on the A380 to look at the damage from their seats – ooops 🙂 )

    • Mary Kirby
      Author

      I like how you describe the E/E bay as the “brain space”. I wonder if I can weave that into a future headline 😀

  3. At the DefCon security conference this weekend in Las Vegas, cyber security professionals shot down the notion that a plane could be overtaken by someone hacking into the controls through the network within the cabin of the aircraft. However, other concerns remain.

    See details – http://ow.ly/AbVzT

    • Mary Kirby
      Author

      Yes, there are good reasons why we did not run a dedicated article about his claims (which were not entirely unlike those made by Teso last year). Tests on standalone systems rarely hold meaning when they’re integrated into secure networks. Such tests also disregard actual operational conditions and procedures. With that said, we note with interest that major IFE stakeholders have not delivered definitive answers when asked about various vulnerabilities so it’s important to keep an eye on these claims nonetheless.