As expectations rise, IFE in RJs now far from far-fetched

 - June 1, 2007, 12:12 PM

Availability of in-flight entertainment (IFE) ranks among the top factors that influence the loyalty of passengers, who have become increasingly aware of their travel “experience.” Even on short- and medium-haul flights, customers have come to expect such conveniences as feature films, communications links and interactive services such as e-commerce or games, Embraer airline market senior product strategy manager Claudio Camelier told  attendees at April’s meeting of ERA airline delegates in Lisbon.

Given IFE’s attractiveness to passengers, Camelier said, such equipment represents a potential source of direct revenue–which might cover the cost of the equipment. The Embraer official said U.S. discount-fare operator Frontier Airlines charges $5 for DirecTV access and $8 for pay per view. Australia’s Virgin Blue charges fees scaled to flight duration longer or shorter than three hours. In Canada, WestJet provides free “live” television but charges C$5 for pay-per-view. Of course, revenue from advertising sales could help defray costs, or conceivably support free IFE for passengers.

Embraer can equip E-Jets with LiveTV satellite television and broadcast audio and video, Thales 14500 audio and video on demand and XM Radio satellite radio, with in-seat power outlets. Camelier said JetBlue had selected LiveTV and XM radio, while Virgin Blue had opted for LiveTV.

On the 100-seat E190, related avionics racks go in the aft section of the baggage hold, and the Thales system requires no under-seat space, said Camelier. The IFE rack occupies about 53 cu ft, while external satellite television antennas carry a fuel consumption penalty of about 0.3 percent.

Depending on configuration, “cost-effective” in-seat video systems weigh 770 to 1,320 pounds, said Camelier. On the positive side, they reduce flight-attendant workload, require relatively little power, have proved reliable and easy to maintain (with 0.5 percent, or one in 200, seat problems per flight) and their flexible “architecture” allows upgrades or system expansion. Embraer normally provides IFE systems as buyer-furnished equipment.

Looking forward, Camelier sees a demand for wireless monitors, optical-fiber- based systems, wireless “goggle/ headsets,” voice over Internet protocol, “virtual” key- boards and pico-cell technology. He envisions a three-pound “media center device” that could replace separate CD/MP3 or DVD, XM radio, Web browser and moving-map display equipment.

He acknowledged that Boeing had dropped its planned use of wireless technology for the upcoming 787 jetliner in favor of more mature fiber-optic equipment. Claiming that pico-cell technology offers perhaps the greatest potential, he argued that the perceived problem of cellphone annoyance hasn’t arisen on trains.