German airline Lufthansa has announced plans to offer wirelessly streamed films to passengers on trans-European flights, sparking a clash over the future of traditional seatback systems.
Europe's largest traditional network carrier said passengers on some medium-haul flights would be able to stream movies, television shows, music or games from an onboard server to their own portable devices or smartphones starting in the summer.
The service will be available flights such as those serving Russia, the Middle East and North Africa, starting with 20 Airbus A321 aircraft, which carry about 220 people, the airline said.
Jens Bischof, Lufthansa's chief commercial officer, dismissed concerns that some passengers would be left out.
"Everyone travels with a tablet or smartphone these days," he told a news conference at ITB Berlin, the world's largest travel fair, which attracts 113,000 tour operators, hoteliers and government and airline officials.
The BoardConnect system chosen by Lufthansa is offered by one of its own subsidiaries, Lufthansa Systems.
It competes with streaming systems developed by France's Thales and Japan's Panasonic Avionics. Those two firms are also the leading manufacturers of the traditional systems embedded into the seats of most long-haul aircraft. But one of Lufthansa's main rivals, Qatar Airways, said it would be sticking with the embedded system.
"This [new streaming] system is in its infancy and we would not like to introduce something that is not properly tested," Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said.
"Imagine, in an airplane, that you have 200 passengers all switching on tablets. What interference that would provide to aircraft communications and avionics is still not proven."