Astronics (then Olin Aerospace) Debuts Empower at WAEA 1996

Astronics (then Olin Aerospace) debuts its EmPower in-seat laptop power solution at the WAEA Exhibition and Conference in Seattle, 1996. Image via Astronics.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of APEX EXPO this year, APEX Media is looking back at  its members’ most significant achievements. Today, we take a look at how Astronics’ quick response to the introduction of portable electronic devices on the ground improved the passenger experience in the air.

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In 1994, a manager at Astronics (then Olin Aerospace) was asked by a Middle East airline if any aircraft had the ability to charge laptops. The service wasn’t available at the time, but the question gave rise to its creation.

The manager pitched the idea for in-seat power to a team of engineers at the company, who walked the floor at the 1995 WAEA Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam to discuss the concept with airlines and OEMs. With laptop proliferation increasing in the mid-1990s and mobile phones beginning to gain in popularity, the idea was well-received, and so development work began immediately upon the team’s return.

The creation of the first EmPower in-seat power system was headed up by Mark Peabody, president at Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems, who was working as head of Cabin Electronics for Olin Aerospace. Its first product, a 75-watt 12-volt (75W 12V) automotive cigarette-lighter-style outlet, was officially launched at the 1996 WAEA Conference and Exhibition in Seattle.

American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were the first two customers to install in-seat power in 1997. Today, Astronics’ EmPower systems are used by all the major OEMs and are flying on nearly two million seats on over 260 airlines across the globe.

Although airlines initially offered in-seat power to first- and business-class passengers, it is now expected by all. “The types of power have grown to include AC, USB type A&C, and now wireless. Almost all wide-body aircraft are now delivered with some type of in-seat power, and recently we have seen a significant uptake in in-seat power adoption rates for narrow-body and regional jets too,” Peabody explained. “The airlines’ more recent trend toward bring-your-own-device for streaming airline entertainment has made in-seat power a required amenity.”

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