The 737 MAX has a new in-seat power option. Astronics’ EmPower® UltraLite in-seat passenger power system is now available as a line-fit offer on the newest Boeing jets. TUI will take delivery of the first installs shortly.
The new power kit delivers 2.1A USB ports to passengers, allowing for portable electronics to remain charged in flight. For airlines the new kit is a lighter weight solution with more outlets supported from a single control unit. Rather than a power supply unit at each row the UltraLite model uses one box to power up to 30 seats. And that control unit can be in the sidewall rather than mounted on the seat frame.
“We are pleased to announce TUI Airlines as the line-fit launch customer for our revolutionary new UltraLite system, and are confident that our in-seat power solution will deliver an excellent passenger experience. The installation went flawlessly and the system is performing well,” said Dennis Markert, Director of Business Development, Astronics AES.
In addition to the 737MAX installations Astronics expects to see the UltraLite kit line-fit installed on Airbus A320 family aircraft in Q3 2018.
The USB-only update is nice to see from Astronics; as little as 18 months ago the company was questioning the value of such implementations on single-aisle aircraft. In a November 2016 earnings call – after Astronics indicated it no-bid the Air Asia RFP – Gundermann belittled USB power solutions:
It is USB-only…Most airlines that we work with tend to prefer the full-fledged 110/USB combination…I wouldn’t call it a commodity but there are more companies out there that can do [USB-only]. Most airlines who are serious about putting power in their airplanes will investigate (USB-only) but they’ll usually decide to spend a little more and future-proof their installation. That’s were we tend to shine.
While there are undoubtedly passengers who prefer the 110V option over USB-only the latter is rapidly growing, particularly in the single-aisle LCC market. These are airlines that previously would not have offered anything at all to passengers. But the single-aisle planes are flying longer distances and passengers carrying more electronics on board delivering power becomes a product differentiator for the airlines.
Astronics is well positioned to deliver for those airlines given its long history in the space and its impressive EmPower product line, including multiple USB-only soltuions. That it is choosing to develop more for this market is a good sign, for the company, for airline customers and for passengers.