JAL A350 First class combi power adaptor[1]

JAL’s A350 first-class combination power adaptor. Image via Japan Airlines

A recent report by Valour Consultancy explores in-seat power trends over the next decade. APEX Media spoke with Craig Foster, senior consultant and cofounder of Valour, to learn about the various power options coming to the fore.

USB outlets will outnumber 110V AC outlets.

Most outlets that ship over the next decade will be USB outlets, according to Foster.

“USB outlets accounted for about 56% of total deliveries in 2018. By 2028, this will increase to 86%,” he says. “In the single-aisle segment, the move away from seatback IFE in favor of wireless IFE means in-seat power will increasingly be integrated into the seat architecture.”

Power outlet vendors are already partnering with seat manufacturers on pre-integrated in-seat power as a competitive strategy, Foster points out.

There is still room for the international multi-plug, though mainly in premium cabins.

“Our belief is that the AC+USB combo plugs—AC and USB ports in the same housing—will be favored over the standalone AC outlets to give passengers more choice, and to ease the transition to Type-C. Passengers will likely carry Type-A PEDs [personal electronic devices] for a little while yet,” Foster says.

The new Japan Airlines Airbus A350-900, which will be deployed on domestic routes, offers passengers across all classes both options of USB and 110V AC outlets, with combination plugs in first class and independent AC/USB plugs in business and economy.

USB Type-C demand will grow dramatically.

“We expect Type-C to dominate in future as it offers several advantages over Type-A and 110V AC,” Foster adds. “All new smartphones, as well as a range of other PEDs now ship with the Type-C adapter. With Power Delivery, there is the ability to provide up to 60W of power, which means it will be possible to charge all future PEDs with the Type-C outlet using a single, standardized cable. A USB Type-C system is less expensive than a 110V AC power system, weighs less, and hardware is less obtrusive too.”

As the popularity of wireless charging grows in consumer tech and in other transportation services, airlines will need to keep up.

Wireless charging is an attractive passenger experience feature because it eliminates the tangle of cables which can further impede movement in a crowded cabin. It also means there are no USB sockets that can be broken by mishandling or shorted by incompatible devices, Foster suggests, but the technology is not quite ready to take off.

“First, charging pads are easier to deploy in premium cabins because there is more real estate to play with. Although, we’re hearing of strong demand for the technology in economy cabins too; presumably, as part of a PED holder that would also serve to keep the device upright and at a favorable viewing angle,” Foster says. “Second, power efficiency of inductive charging pads is currently 60-70%, compared to >90% for traditional outlets. This requires bigger, more expensive power supply units with more heat dissipation. Additionally, devices take longer to charge, which may be of more concern on shorter journeys. And third, the cost and complexity of manufacturing wireless charging pads is higher than for traditional outlets.”

The push for power is leading to greater supplier diversification.

“Astronics and, to a lesser extent, KID, dominate the market right now,” Foster says. “Their combined share of 2018 revenues was 98%. The USB market will become more competitive, though. Several newcomers have won sizable contracts recently: IMAGIK (GOL, Air Europa and Neos), Inflight Canada (British Airways, Japan Airlines and Air Transat) and Burrana (a major carrier in Latin America and another in APAC—neither of which I am able to name). And companies like True Blue Power, Eirtech Aviation Services and Mythopoeia are all winning business as well.”