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Qantas has begun using Apple’s iPad for in-flight entertainment, with all passengers in economy and business being provided with an iPad 2 for the duration of the flight.
The trial, originally slated for late last year, will run throughout February under the moniker of 'Q Streaming' but will be limited to a single Boeing 767-300.
That plane will be scheduled across a variety of routes, from Sydney-Melbourne to transcontinental coast-to-coast services (if you're a real aviation geek who wants to know if you'll be setting foot onto that particular plane, the aircraft rego to watch for is VH-OGH).
"You'll find this 767 on our triangle route of Sydney-Melbourne-Brisbane but customers will get the most benefit on the long east-west routes" Alison Webster, Qantas Executive Manager for Customer Experience, told Australian Business Traveller.
iPads for every passenger
All passengers on that aircraft will find an iPad 2 sitting in their seat-back pocket, while those in business class will also get a flexible stand which can be used on the fold-down meal tray. The plane will carry one tablet for each of the aircraft’s 254 seats, with several spares on hand.
A special ‘Q Streaming’ app loaded onto the iPad will act as the front-end for on demand content beamed over wireless networking from a central server on the aircraft, using technology developed by Lufthansa Systems as part of their BoardConnect platform – which has also been adopted by Virgin Australia for its own in-flight system set to debut in mid-2012.
Webster says the iPads will be "locked down", bypassing Apple's normal home screen and booting straight into the Q Streaming app – "so if anyone decides they want to 'borrow' one it won't have any capability off the aircraft."
Towards the end of February, Qantas will allow passengers to view the streaming content on their own iPad by making the Q Streaming app available as a free download from the iTunes App Store.
Windows and Mac laptops runnin Microsoft's SIlverlight software will also work with Q Streaming.
Qantas says its iPads have the capability to be preloaded to the same level of content as offered on their flagship Airbus A380, although the trial will be restricted to streaming content from a smaller selection.
In a novel and welcome twist, Q Streaming will eventually allows passengers with their own tablet to download video to watch within a 24 hour period of leaving the aircraft if the programme was cut short by the plane landing.
What about Android tablets?
The system also has the capability to work with Android tablets, notebooks and even smartphones, although the trial is an iPad-only program.
"This pilot programme is about putting the wi-fi streaming capability through its paces" Webster says. "The system is able to support a variety of devices and the ultimate goal is for customers to bring their own devices if they choose" Webster says. "We’ll evaluate the trial at the end of this year and then make some strategic decisions."
If successful, the system will be rolled out on ten Boeing 767-300s, with the airline considering installing seats with in-built iPad brackets.
Qantas is keeping an open mind on introducing it to long-haul Airbus A330s, but is quick to point out that the airline remains committed to conventional in-flight entertainment systems with a screen in the seat or the armrest.
Qantas will also launch in-flight Internet on Airbus A380 flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles next month: read our report for full details.