AIRCRAFT INTERIORS 2014: Get new IFE on aircraft quicker, pleads flydubai

Daniel Kerrison, vice-president inflight product at flydubai, has called on the IFE industry to bring new equipment, applications and systems to the airline market in timeframes similar to those of consumer electronics, instead of being some years behind.

Speaking at the Passenger Experience Conference alongside the Aircraft Interiors Expo, Kerrison told delegates, “Embedded IFE is the most expensive piece of kit on aircraft after the engines, yet we as an industry are installing today IFE systems which are equivalent to iPad 1s. which few people would use for 8-10 years – but our IFE will be out there for that long.

“We started talking to Lumexis in early 2009. At the time, the word iPad didn’t exist, yet in November 2013, Apple released iPad Air, the fifth generation in 43 months,” he pointed out.

After talking with Lumexis, the airline then went on to implement the supplier’s Fiber-To-The-Seat (FTTS) fibre optic system which delivers the only High Definition (HD) pictures in the embedded IFE sector. “After all that time [since first discussions], having the only system in the world with HD is embarrassing. HD is everywhere – PCs. TVs, etc but hardly anywhere in flight,” Kerrison bemoaned. “Recently the industry has recognised us with an award for the Best Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity in the Middle East [the Inflight Awards from LARA’s sister publication]. As we don’t have connectivity, we must have won for the quality of the IFE,” he quipped.

Further discussing the challenges that flydubai has designing its inflight product, Kerrison highlighted that the airline’s 66 destinations cover a catchment area with 2.5 billion people “with an incredibly diverse range of cultures”.

According to Kerrison, when flydubai selected the Lumexis FTTS system, it was about a third of the weight and half the cost of legacy IFE systems. It was able, of course, to deliver HD and looked very reliable.

“There were two catches,” he recalled. “The first was that Lumexis had no other customers. We had no idea if this thing would work, flying on aircraft for 8-10 years. We didn’t even have evidence that Lumexis would be around in 8-10 years.

“Also, Boeing was not interested in Lumexis. We had to receive an aircraft from Boeing and send it to have the Sky Interior pulled out, the FTTS IFE fitted and the interior put back. But it held so much promise. Believed we could cover cost through payments for use of the system.

“It’s been a great success. Customers now have more than 1,000 hours of entertainment in 3 different languages – Arabic, English and Russian. Also we now have digital print-format daily newspapers in nine languages,” Kerrison reported.

The VP remarked that the airline has an insatiable appetite for innovation, right from the top of the company. “We are agile. We listen and respond quickly. And we don’t run away from risks, but we identify them and assess them – look them in the face – then have the courage to embrace the opportunities,” he emphasised.

On what does flydubai expects from the industry, Kerrison said that all expected the answers applied. “More important is to work with like-minded suppliers, companies constantly challenging the status quo and refuse to accept mediocrity. As an airline, we challenge concepts and expect no less from our suppliers,” he stated.

Asked if the airline might adopt a connectivity solution, Kerrison replied that it is not something that flydubai is planning in immediate future. “The issue we have with connectivity is that if we add another system and asked customers to pay for the service, it could cannibalise the revenue that we get from the IFE system.”

Kerrison conceded that he couldn’t rule out BFE connectivity being fitted to the airline’s future Boeing 737 MAXs to allow PED usage. “That’s about three generations of iPad away though, so we’re keeping an open mind,” he said.

Bernie Baldwin, editor, Low-Fare & Regional Airlines/
Hamburg, Germany

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