French manufacturer Latécoère is looking to sign up the first airline customers for its Li-Fi system in 2020, Latécoère SVP-innovation and R&T Serge Berenger told ATW.

The aerostructure and wiring specialist is set to reveal a demonstration of the technology in 12 seats of an Air France cabin at the Paris Air Show, in partnership with Air France Industries.

The Li-Fi system, based on light signal transmission via optical fiber and light-modulation infrared LEDs, offers airlines the possibility of streaming inflight entertainment content more quickly. Latécoère first presented it at the AIX aircraft interiors exhibition in Hamburg in April.

“People expressed strong interest during the AIX first display. Some discussions have started with some airlines,” Berenger said. “There is a new large airline which was very interested in the concept and discussions will start next week. Maybe by the end of the year we might be lucky, but we think there’s a very strong probability that the first orders will come in 2020.” 

With supplemental type certification (STC) paperwork already underway in parallel with the modification of the first aircraft, Latécoère expects to be ready for Li-Fi technology to enter service with an airline customer in 2020 or 2021, depending on the specifics of the modification, Berenger said.

“We do not have a commercial agreement yet. The agreement we have is with Air France Industries to develop the technology with the MRO of the company,” Berenger said. “We expect Air France to be the launch airline of this solution, but it’s not done yet.”

The Li-Fi technology is aimed at the retrofit market, Berenger said. “The technology has been designed to be easily installable on an existing aircraft because we think that the leading market for this technology is going to be retrofit, not linefit. Linefit will start from one-to-two years after retrofit.”

The manufacturer is targeting short-haul aircraft to begin with but believes that Li-Fi technology could be used across fleets eventually. The cost of installing the system will not exceed that of installing a Wi-Fi system while it will add less weight to an aircraft because of the use of lightweight fiber optic cables, Berenger said.

However, an operator switching from Wi-Fi to Li-Fi—rather than equipping its aircraft with both—will have to factor in the cost of removing all the wires previously installed to benefit from the weight savings, he noted.

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk