INNOVATION: Taking Off, Tuning In

Taking Off, Tuning In

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It may be enough to make the most dedicated couch potato feel right at home, even while cruising at 40,000 ft. Last week Northwest Airlines rolled out a Boeing 747 equipped with Airvision, a video system that allows passengers to watch their choice of anything from movies to cartoons on a 3-in. color TV mounted in the back of the seat just ahead. The jumbo jet will fly primarily between Detroit and Tokyo, but if a four-month trial of Airvision earns big ratings from customers, Northwest may install the video service on other planes. Airvision Inc., a joint venture of Warner Bros. and the Netherlands' Philips, supplies the TV sets for the service, which will be free for executive-class passengers and cost $4 a flight for those with coach seats. The June selection includes the movies Innerspace and Shoot to Kill, reruns of Moonlighting and Night Court, a cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny and a recap of the 1987 World Series. Airvision President Sheldon Presser says the mini-TVs will also appear later this summer on Qantas Airlines and British Airways.

But that may be only the beginning of video's move into the jet age. Coming soon from Air Video of Toronto is a small-screen computer-game unit built into a seat tray table. The system, which is expected to be offered on some Canadian Airlines flights this fall, will enable passengers to play two to three games, ranging from chess to variants of Pac-man.