A Close Look at How Inflight Entertainment Gets Installed on an Airplane

flydubai, Inflight Entertainment

While I was up in Seattle for the APEX expo, I got invited to something fun. Dubai-based low cost carrier flydubai took delivery of its latest 737 from Boeing. It was following that up with an install of the new Lumexis inflight entertainment system. I was invited to see the install in progress. If you’ve ever wondered how an inflight entertainment system gets installed, here’s a look at it.

flydubai's New 737

Flydubai took delivery of the airplane and it was immediately sent over to Paine Field in Everett where it would have the inflight entertainment system installed. You might remember Lumexis from my post a long time ago. That’s the company that introduced a fiber optic system that goes direct to the screen instead of via those bulky boxes that often block your legroom. The capacity of these wires is tremendous in that you can watch on a big screen in high definition. It’s a beautiful sight. The simple system makes it easier to install than a traditional inflight entertainment system, but it still does take time.

Docked for Install

When the airplane gets to the installer’s hangar, it sits outside but is pulled forward into a bay where the nose sits (above). This allows the workers to get on and off the airplane inside – it also allows them to keep the seats nice and dry in the perenially-wet Pacific Northwest (below).

Seatbacks with Screens

You can see the seats are all wrapped up – these are new seats that have the screens installed in them. (flydubai is also proud to say that these are the only seats with a painted seat recline button.)

The Orange Recline Button

Before these seats can go into the airplane, they have to install all the wiring. So walking in, we found an airplane that’s not nearly ready for primetime. We were early in the 3 day installation process so there was a lot of exposed area (below) that the customer will never see.

The Empty Cabin

Some of this stuff was interesting to see from the side not usually seen by travelers. Below, you’ll see the back side of the passenger service units. You can see the air conditioning vents, the oxygen masks, and on the right, they’ve put life vests where the space is for a traditional drop-down screen for entertainment. (No need for those on this bird.)

Passenger Service Units

The wiring itself comes from the front of the airplane where the head-end unit is installed. Wires go back through the ceiling so you’ll never see them, but there are surprisingly few wires anyway since fiber optics have a lot of capacity. Below is a shot of the entire bundle toward the front of the airplane. Wires start peeling off to go to each row until there’s nothing left in the bundle at the end of the airplane.

Wiring Bundle in Ceiling

Some of those wires go off to power units in every few rows. These are in the sidewall of the airplane (below). They use electricity from the aircraft to power the entertainment systems. Since they sit in the sidewall, a passenger will never see them. Wires just come out to each row of seats from the unit, but that’s all covered well once the seats are installed.

Power Units

That’s about it for the cabin. There are some units installed down in the avionics bay under the passenger floor. As you can see (below), they are small and barely take up any room down there.

Avionics Bay

And that’s really about it, believe it or not. Once they finish with this wiring, they can start putting the cabin back together. The seats will follow and then the system will work like magic, or something like that. This aircraft has certainly already been in Dubai for awhile, flying throughout the system which includes some pretty exotic places, by the way. I didn’t realize how quickly flydubai got big but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

If you want to try the Lumexis system for yourself, flydubai is your best bet right now. Transaero out of Russia is also installing the system and there are more on the way.

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19 comments on “A Close Look at How Inflight Entertainment Gets Installed on an Airplane

  1. Those are very cool shots! The crazy thing is that seatback entertainment may not even be around much longer. When I spoke with an install technician at my company he told me that the grand vision is to install wifi onboard and then stream entertainment directly to iPhones, iPads, Droids, etc. That would allow them to remove seat units and save on the weight. Guess the big question is what they’d offer to non-tablet, non-smartphone customers. Rentable iPads?? We shall see!!

    1. Flying empty the 737 has more than enough range for a Trans-Atlantic flight. From there it’s crossing land just like flying SEA-NYC or any other similar route. The fun ones are when they shuttle a CRJ or ERJ from the mainland to Hawai’i.

  2. Nice to see parts of a plane you don’t normally see. Fiber Optics do sound better then bulky boxes and sounds weight saving also.

    I like the photo of the airplane with its nose inside. Reminds be of a large dog sticking his head in a small doggy door or something…..lol

  3. Thanks for a different look at a 737. I sure hope seat back IFE systems don’t go away. Love traveling light, including skipping the laptop and other electronic gizmos, but not too keen on watching movies on my phone.

  4. Great! Fiber optics is excellent. I wonder if we’ll see Emirates go the same direction in the future.

    Flydubai has grown so rapidly and the low-cost (Ryanair seat density) yet decent service is great for Emirates to provide through service to places like Baku where an A330 would never work. And unlike Qatar Airways or Etihad, Flydubai actually makes money. Air Arabia should be worried.

  5. It’s amazing how packed they get those birds. There really isn’t a lot of space on em when you look at them empty, but the space is well divided once they’re in service, which oddly makes them seem bigger.

    I’m curious if the FAA has special arrangements set up in Seattle’s airspace to handle the descent number of planes shuttled between BFI, RNT, and PAE?

  6. Almost looks easier to install than putting in a home entertainment system!

    There must be a reasonable weight saving using fibre optics vs copper wiring – and the speed and interference robustness won’t hurt either

  7. Great article about the background! I wish there would be more articles of similar quality available, thanks for writing this piece!

  8. I wonder why they have to “reopen” the plane to install such items : couldn’t it come “pre-cabled” by the factory to the customer specification ?

    1. The 737 line is a moving line. I bet Boeing has enough heft with this that they basically won’t do it on the line. I’m sure they’d be happy to fly it over to
      their outfitting center at BFI and do it, but it’s probably cheaper just to have it done by the manufacturer of the IFE.

    2. Lumexis IFE system is probably not a Boeing Catalog offering (Panasonic IFE and others are) so the airlines have to work with Lumexis and an Integrator company (MRO) to certify the installation. This process is called Supplemental Type Certificate, or STC for short. An STC is a very elaborate process to certify new equipment onto an aircraft and can only be approved by FAA.

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