Singapore Airlines puts a PC in every seat

Red Hat at the heart of Singapore Airlines' in-flight network

Flying in economy class doesn't have to be a miserable experience.

To make flying more enjoyable for its passengers, Singapore Airlines is adding bigger screens, more in-flight movies and a PC in every seat on its newest planes.

Unlike many leading airlines, the carrier doesn't view in-flight service as a cost center where cutbacks can be made to reduce losses or boost profits. Instead, Singapore Airlines' latest investments in cabin service are designed to help it stand out from the competition and attract more passengers

KrisWorld, Singapore Airlines' in-flight entertainment system, is a main focus of these efforts, offering on-demand movies, television shows, games and music to passengers. Now, the airline aims to raise the bar, rolling out a new version of KrisWorld that improves significantly on existing systems and hints at what passengers can expect to see on the Airbus S.A.S. A380 and The Boeing Co. 787 Dreamliner, when these aircraft enter service.

In recent years, video-on-demand and audio-on-demand have become common offerings on many airlines.

"It's become expected," said Eric Tong, senior manager of inflight entertainment product innovation at Singapore Airlines, during a recent interview. Carriers have to push the boundaries of what's possible with these systems to stand out from the competition, he said.

The latest version of KrisWorld is based on Panasonic Avionics's eX2 in-flight entertainment system and was jointly developed by the two companies. The system consists of a central server that connects to a network of PCs installed in every seat on the aircraft. The KrisWorld software offers an improved user interface and each economy-class seat is fitted with a 10.6-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen that offers resolution of 1,280 pixels by 768 pixels.

They are larger in business and first class, where each seat comes with a 15.4-inch and 23-inch screen, respectively.

The heart of the KrisWorld system is the main server, which is equipped with "terabytes" of storage capacity to hold the content that's made available to passengers, Tong said. When passengers choose to watch a movie or listen to a CD, the content is streamed from the KrisWorld server to the seat's computer, which has 40G bytes of local hard-disk space and is based on a Via Technologies Inc. processor.

The whole system runs on Red Hat's distribution of the Linux operating system.

The amount of content that's available on the latest KrisWorld system for passengers to choose from is staggering: 100 movies, 150 television shows, 700 music CDs, 22 radio stations, and 65 games. Movies and television shows are refreshed on a monthly basis, meaning frequent fliers will always find fresh content. In addition, the system offers Berlitz language lessons, travel guides from Rough Guides, and live text news, among other choices.

KrisWorld can also be used as a PC and includes Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice application suite, which offers a word processor, spreadsheet, and a presentation program. Every seat is fitted with a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port that lets passengers access documents carried on a thumb drive or portable hard disk. The port can also be used to connect a USB keyboard or mouse, making it easier for business travellers to create and edit documents without having to dig out their laptops and power cords, Tong said.

Don't want to carry a keyboard with you? No problem. You can buy one on board the aircraft. Alternatively, the handsets installed in each seat that offered controls for the in-flight entertainment system on one side and a phone on the other, have been replaced with a model that offers user controls on one side a QWERTY keypad on the other.

Unfortunately, since the demise of Boeing's Connexion service, Internet access hasn't been available on Singapore Airlines. But the carrier is looking for another way of providing Internet access, hoping to offer yet one more way to for passengers to spend all those hours in the sky.

"We are reviewing options and once we find that there are viable options, sustainable ones over the longer term ... we will certainly look at it," Tong said.

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