Is virtual reality the future of inflight entertainment?

Inflight virtual reality is being heralded as the next phase of inflight entertainment (IFE), giving passengers the possibility of escaping the confines of their seat.

More and more aircraft manufacturers and airlines are investing in the technology as a way of differentiating themselves from competitors. The race to be the first to implement inflight virtual reality is heating up, with one company, Inflight VR, leading the way.

Inflight VR is a company based in Barcelona and Munich that is creating a virtual reality ecosystem for the inflight entertainment industry. According to its website, “Virtual reality, and the idea of creating a space that makes you feel fully immersed in the virtual environment, has been a dream chased by the tech community for decades. We made it our mission bringing this unique technology on board of the aircraft as an entirely new way of inflight entertainment”.

Inflight VR founder and MD Nikolas Jaeger believes the first carrier that can implement a “thought-through” virtual reality inflight entertainment system “can set a real milestone in modern passenger experience and become a winner in the industry”. Mr Jaeger has commented that VR enhances the onboard experience and also offers a platform to drive ancillary revenues. VR IFE may offer a total replacement, and traditional seat-back screens may disappear, as VR headsets and other equipment “will be cheaper and lighter” as technology advances.

In 2017 Airbus partnered with Inflight VR, in an attempt to solve several critical safety challenges around the implementation of VR on an aircraft. Inflight VR completed a six month ‘business accelerator’ programme, driven by Airbus BizLab. Inflight VR is now developing a software solution that works with any device to make VR safe to use in an aircraft by ensuring that content is at the same time appropriate, allowing the cabin management system to interrupt the experience.

Inflight VR co-founder and CEO Moritz Engler says the partnership with Airbus provided a lot of insights on both sides: “We have a lot of people working on the technology on our side and, of course, the experience about the airline industry came initially almost entirely from Airbus. So, we were able to put together the best of two worlds and build a really nice VR IFE demonstrator. It is not a final product, but we are proud to claim it has the world’s most advanced virtual reality in-flight entertainment system”.

More recently, IAG selected Inflight VR to be part of its latest Hangar 51 global accelerator programme. The selected start-ups will receive 10 weeks of intensive industry advice from mentors and experts at IAG, Iberia, Iberia Express and Vueling in Madrid and Barcelona. Hangar 51 is run in partnership with Cink Emprende, a Spanish consulting company specialising in entrepreneurship.

Inflight VR believes it has met all the objectives it set itself three years ago when it launched. The development of the Inflight VR entertainment system is progressing as per plan. The company will soon bring to the aviation market the benefits of virtual reality, with In-flight tests already successfully performed.

Mr Jaeger said: “The initial results of the tests performed with the Inflight VR entertainment system have proven that our concept is sound. Airlines have shown interest and want us to continue the trials so as to gain more insight into its potential and what it can bring, also in terms of additional ancillary revenue. The initial feedback is extremely encouraging, with a very high and enthusiastic acceptance from both airlines and passengers”.

Inflight VR aren’t the only players in the game at the moment.

In 2015 SkyLights developed virtual reality headsets as an alternative inflight entertainment solution for passengers. The privately held company has agreements with leading content producers, such as 20th Century Fox and Dreamworks, to deliver a range of entertainment options. Airline launch partners for the IFE solution include Air France, Joon, Corsair and Jetfly, and there are partnerships with gategroup and Accor Hotels.