LISTEN: The Challenges of Keeping Mobile Devices Charged In-Flight

Airplane passengers usually board their flights with at least a cell phone, and many take tablets, e-readers, and laptops with them into the cabin. Some airlines are even removing seatback displays altogether and encouraging passengers to access in-flight entertainment on their mobile devices. On today’s podcast, Tom Hemphill, director of engineering at Mid Continent Controls, reveals the challenges of keeping these electronics charged while cruising.

A decade ago, the company primarily catered to airplane controls, switch panels, and outlets – then came the standardization of the mobile phone, and the business shifted focus to smart devices.

“Everybody needs at least one charger at every single seat; most airplanes now have two or even three,” Hemphill said.

And it’s not just the cabin where access to power is needed. As a pilot himself, Hemphill revealed that crew members in the cockpit also need to be able to charge their devices. But the real difficulty for the company is the pace of technological evolution.

“Apple, Samsung, and Motorola all come out with new technology every 18 months, and a lot of times it’s a challenge to keep up.”

Electronics manufacturers, especially Apple, may have different charging specs that can make power solutions development a hassle. According to Hemphill, consumers are gravitating toward USB-C and wireless charging, but engineering for the latest technologies and having the solution fit within a small design isn’t always easy.

Then there’s the final hurdle to development – FAA certification. The agency has strict requirements that must be met before the technology can be approved for flights. Getting the certification can add a year to deploying the solution inside an aircraft.

“In the world of consumer electronics, that year means they’ve already come out with something new,” Hemphill said.

To reduce the deployment timeframe, he said the company maintains consistent interaction with the OEMs, helping Mid Continent Controls stay one step ahead in the ever-changing world of technology.

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