Linux flies on the Airbus 380

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Last year, we had a family event in Washington DC and flew on a Continental 777 from Tel Aviv to Newark.  The personalized VOD system was outstanding, and we didn’t have the tiresome loop of the same old 5 or 6 movies on the long intercontinental hauls.  The only quirky thing I noticed at the beginning of the flight was that it was based on Microsoft Windows – and the flight team had to reboot the system to get it working – so we got to see the boot up sequence.

However – there is a strong Linux alternative to Windows based in-flight VOD – the Panasonic eX2 In-flight Entertainment System (IFE). The eX2 powers many of the world’s leading airlines’ In-flight Entertainment Systems. Singapore Airlines uses the eX2 on its A380s, B747 and B777 aircraft while Emirates will install the same system on a fleet of almost 60 A380 aircraft. Industry sources claim that two-thirds of the new A380 aircraft will use the Linux-based In-flight Entertainment System from Panasonic. Linux has advantages of both reliability and cost of licensing – which are both extremely important economic incentives for airlines in today’s tight market.

Quoted in Avionics Today magazine, Neil James, director of sales at Panasonic Avionics claims that:

“It is the industry’s first one-gigabit backbone system, and will deliver on the order of 5 Mbit/s of data to the seat,..That amount of bandwidth will provide not only high-quality video but concurrent capabilities like picture-in-picture, live text news and text messaging,”

5 MBit/s is indeed the minimum requirement for an interactive network PVR using diskless end-points (set top boxes in the home, or in an airplane – the back of the seat in front of you).

It is interesting to compare the security requirements for a network PVR system like the Panasonic inflight entertainment system. An airplane local area network is extremely well controlled and managed in terms of access control and quality of service.  Clearly – unlike a home user, a passenger will have a much more difficult time to hack the system and steal proprietary digital content. The content distribution system is end to end and I cannot easily visualize going into the rest rooms, pulling out cables and tapping into the data flow.

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