Why Your Airline Needs to Adopt In-Flight USB-C Fast Charging

Panasonic Avionics< Panasonic Avionics
05/18/23 4 MIN READ

The electrical plug wars have a new winner: the AC plug is out, and USB-C is in.

After two decades of trying to catch up to the consumer electronics market, airlines are in for a major upgrade. Now, airlines are able to provide the same charging experience as passengers might have on terra firma, with a single fast-charging port.

In fact, with USB-C, Astrova — Panasonic’s new generation in-flight entertainment system — can fast charge a dead laptop from 0–50% in under 30 minutes and to 85% inside of an hour.

Why is this happening now?

The personal electronic device (PED) market exploded over the past decade. New generations of smartphones, tablets, laptops, keyboards, gaming consoles, e-readers, and wireless earbuds may each have proprietary charging technology or plugs that refuse to play nicely with competitors’ devices.

The cascading inability to use the same charger for multiple devices led to the 2022 passage of the #CommonCharger law in the European Union. The law establishes USB-C as the common port, allowing the “consumer to charge their devices with any USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.” It comes into effect in 2024 for all small/handheld devices, and 2026 for laptops.

This law was passed for a few reasons: to reduce electronic waste, to address planned obsolescence, and to protect consumers from anti-competitive behavior in the market.

It was also passed to establish a norm for fast-charging. According to the EU, “harmonization will help prevent different producers from unjustifiably limiting charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.”

As with any technology laws regulating multinationals such as GDPR, the regulation is expected to have a global effect.

Why do airlines need fast-charging?

In a survey recently done by Panasonic Avionics, 55% of passengers who own laptops brought them on their last flight, and 76% of those said it would be “very convenient” to charge their laptop in-flight.

What’s more, the overwhelming majority of passengers — 96% — said they want to be able to charge their devices to capacity.

At a hardware level, just 21% of people in Economy and 35% in Business/First Class use conventional AC power outlets. USB port use, meanwhile, ranges from 86–91%, making it the clear winner.

However, most USB-A connections have a maximum power output of just 15W, meaning charging a smartphone on its last legs can take upwards of four hours. Forget about editing videos or slide decks on laptops, gaming on phones, or streaming Netflix — 15W is not fast enough to keep up with power demands, especially on long-haul flights.

The USB-C charging connections on Panasonic Avionics’ Astrova provide a guaranteed 67 watts of charging output — enough to fast charge the latest Apple, Dell, HP, and Lenovo laptops. Additionally, depending on the passenger charging usage on board, Astrova can flex to up to 100 watts of power. No other seat-end IFE system can fast-charge laptops.

It’s intrinsic to the passenger experience that on-the-ground trends are reflected in the cabin — not only to please customers and drive repeat business, but also to ensure your cabins are as sleek and streamlined as possible, and that your airline remains as competitive as it can be.

Astrova Fast Charging Apple Laptop

What kinds of devices can fast-charge?

Many PC, Android, and Apple devices (smartphones, tablets, laptops) can be fast-charged using USB-C, but not all have the same fast-charging requirements. Below are the fast charge requirements for some of the most power-hungry passenger devices: laptops.

You can see Astrova is able to fast-charge passenger devices that are flying today, and is flexible enough to power the devices of tomorrow.

ManufacturerPower ConsumptionUSB-C Fast Charging Compatibility
Apple Macbook Pro M267WYes
Dell Latitude65WYes
HP EliteBook65WYes
Lenovo ThinkPad65WYes

With 67W guaranteed to every passenger, and the capacity to hit up to 100W, Astrova is the only in-flight entertainment system capable of fast-charging a laptop via USB-C.

Yes, for some, this may mean having to buy a new cable to charge devices in-flight. For the majority, though, this means clean and uncluttered fast-charging conveniently available at the seat.

As long as personal electronic devices have existed, airline passengers have wanted to charge them in-flight. With the USB-C harmonization effort, airlines can use a single charging standard as a jumping-off point toward streamlining the look and functionality of your cabins.

If you’re ready to equip your fleet with IFEC systems that meet the demands of today’s passengers, contact us today.

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