Business Irish

Monday 21 October 2019

Tech firm Inflight seeks at least $1.5m in legal row with US group

Entertainment: High-tech systems like this are used to provide passengers with a range of film and music options while airborne. Stock image
Entertainment: High-tech systems like this are used to provide passengers with a range of film and music options while airborne. Stock image
John Mulligan

John Mulligan

Inflight Dublin, an Irish tech firm that's one of the world's largest providers of inflight entertainment solutions to airlines, claims that it has lost revenue, potential clients, and suffered "irreparable harm" as a result of allegedly defective servers sold to it by a US firm.

The Irish company - whose dozens of airline clients include Aer Lingus, Norwegian and South African Airways is seeking what could ultimately be millions of dollars in damages after launching a legal case in Illinois. It has initiated the action against Astronics, a global provider of power and other solutions for the aerospace industry.

Inflight Dublin has claimed that it bought hundreds of servers developed by an Astronics subsidiary, Telefonix, as well as almost 1,000 batteries for the servers.

The Encompass system was promoted by Astronics as being more efficient for the provision of wireless in-flight entertainment systems, as instead of having to remove a server from an airplane, or rely on an external battery charger to charge the server, a drained battery could be simply swapped for a fully charged one.

But Inflight Entertainment, whose chief executive is John White, has claimed that soon after the Encompass system started to be deployed, airlines began to experience "numerous problems" with it. Those problems included a connection between the batteries and the server, which Inflight Dublin claimed degraded after only a limited number of battery swaps.

Inflight Dublin has insisted in its complaint that it engaged with Astronics' efforts to remedy the alleged defect, but that no successful solution has been secured.

"The prevalence of the failures forced the airlines to abandon the functionality that Inflight relayed from Astronics, at substantial expense to Inflight and the airlines," the Irish company has claimed.

It added that the inability to resolve the battery issue has caused and is continuing to cause Inflight to lose revenue, and is "endangering" its "critical client relationships and reputation in the airline industry".

Inflight said it had deployed the technology with customers including Czech airline Travel Service (TVS), which operates flights under the Smartwings brand.

The Irish firm has claimed in court that in 2018 a TVS crew "reported sparking and a smoke odour emitting from an Encompass server during a flight".

"Following the report of the sparking incident that led to safety concerns, TVS threatened to cancel its service agreement with Inflight if operational servers were not returned to aircraft by May 24, 2018," noted the complaint filed by Inflight against Astronics.

Inflight Dublin has insisted that the alleged battery connection issues are among a number of other alleged defects it and its airline customers have detected with the Encompass servers.

The Irish firm has sued Astronics and Telefonix under a number of counts, including false advertising, breach of contract and common law fraud.

It has requested the court to find that Astronics be required to pay Inflight punitive damages equal to or greater than $1.5m (€1.3m). It is also seeking additional monetary judgments.

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