Air New Zealand Crash!
Last Sunday I got the biggest scare I have ever had on a plane. I am not scared of flying, in fact I love flying, but this time I got really, really, really scared...
I was watching a movie on the in-flight entertainment system. It was the middle of the night, half the plane was asleep when all of a sudden the stewardess taps me on the shoulder and says:
"Sir, we are shutting down the entertainment system because we are crashing..."
At that moment my heart rate went through the roof, I immediately started looking around to see if there was turmoil in the plane, then looked at her and said "What? Are we crashing?!". Apparently I had misunderstood her, she must've said "it [the entertainment system] is crashing". The stewardess apologized for the bad choice of words and we had a good (& very relieved) laugh about it.
Of course all this would not have happened if the in-flight entertainment system had not crashed...
In retrospect I am pleased it crashed because it gave me some insight in the system behind the Air New Zealand in-flight entertainment system: It is running CE.
I should've been excited about that and used an exclamation mark on that last sentence, but how can I be excited about a system that has to be rebooted every 6 hours? I can imagine an already nervous passenger would become very nervous when he realizes even something simple like the in-flight entertainment system crashes!
Besides that obvious "crashing" problem the control of the system is sluggish, sometimes even completely non-responsive. The graphics of the "Air Show", the application that shows where the plane is, is however very impressive and looks very smooth. The board running CE is definitely fast enough to support fast 3D graphics and streaming video so why is control so slow? And why the crash?
I think the problem is that the company that designed the in-flight entertainment system used (this is an educated guess) the Internet Explorer as a host for the "Entertainment" application. The crash is probably caused by a memory leak in the browser application. Bad design? I think so...
Windows CE is a real-time operating system that can run 24/7 without ever having to reboot the system. In fact, several customers have been running CE devices for several years without ever having to reboot their device. I'm just saying I would love to take a closer look at the Air New Zealand entertainment system and see whether my educated guess is close to the truth.
So... Rockwell Collins (or Air NZ): Give us a call. I'm sure we can help you create a much more robust and responsive system.
Here's a funny side effect of a "mid-air crash" of the Air NZ in-flight entertainment system: LA to Auckland in a little over 6 hours with a Boeing 747-400, now THAT'S impressive! (Normal flying time is around 12 hours, video is bad quality but it says 6 hours 13 minutes...)