Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Vidya Rudhiramoorthy | Bharathidasan Institute of Management.
In-Flight entertainment refers to all spheres of entertainment, information and communication available to passengers onboard a commercial aircraft.
Installation of In Flight Entertainment system ranks second in terms of cost, the first being aircraft engine. But majority of airlines perceive it as an investment rather than a cost.
One of the major drivers for the IFE market is the easing of regulatory restrictions on voice and data solutions on board an aircraft. By 2012 the market for in-flight broadband service is estimated to reach $936 million. In-flight live direct broadcast video is forecasted to reach $913 million in 2012. Over 2,500 aircraft in the global commercial fleet are projected to be equipped with in-flight connectivity systems by the end of 2010 and the number is expected to reach 4,500 by 2013.
Competition to achieve market dominance in the booming in-flight internet and e-mail markets is strong. Entertaining passengers during long haul flights is a big challenge for the airliners as it is the basic value proposition for on-board services. If passengers do not perceive any value then the airlines loses out on its customers which acts in the negative considering the huge investment that goes into the IFE services.
Airlines have a wide range of connectivity options to choose from. They can opt for a rudimentary service that allows travellers to send SMS, e-mails through their PEDs or can choose a full fledged service.
Thales has offered a connectivity strategy that allows passengers to use standalone solutions and applications, integrated into the on-board IFE. Panasonic is developing ‘eXConnect’ a Ku-band-based in-flight broadband product. Jetstar is shown its interest in renting out pre-loaded iPads as a kind of in-flight entertainment that contrasts with regular seat back video streaming.
Competition from Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) that offer communication, information and entertainment services pose a threat to IFE. Therefore establishing preferred IFE service provider status is crucial.
Increasing demand for commercial aircrafts in future is likely to spur the demand for IFE system. The below table lists the region wise demand for IFE.
Low-cost carriers adopt in-flight mobile connectivity. India’s LCC Kingfisher has launched ‘King mobile’ and become the first in the country to offer wide range on services on mobile platform.
Demand for Wi-Fi is on the rise and the airlines are keeping with it. Delta Airlines owns the largest fleet of Wi-Fi equipped aircraft in the world. The current Fleet Wi-Fi count is 495/528 (as of June 9, 2010).
Connectivity solutions have emerged as the fastest growing segment. Saudi Arabian Airlines has contracted with Thales to equip its 42 A380 fleet with systems that connects to broadband network.
Connectivity solutions have emerged as the fastest growing segment. Virgin Atlantic strikes a deal with Panasonic to equip A330 with eX2 systems for connectivity solutions that will allow sending and receiving of texts, phone calls etc
Over the last two years, a majority of the aerospace industry expenditure has been diverted towards IFE and connectivity services. Although IFE is gaining significance, the number of controversies that negate its growth is on the rise. A few of the drawbacks have been discussed below.
Wired Communication Systems:
Entertainment systems contributes to aircraft weight significantly, it consists of more than 2000 parts and increases the aircraft’s weight by almost a thousand pounds. A fully equipped entertainment system uses about four and a half miles of wiring. The aviation industry has been suffering for quite a few years with problems of poor wiring causing instances of fires and emergency landings.
Case: Swiss Air 111 had to face the misfortune of poor wiring. The scenario was caused by a short circuit that occurred in cockpit wiring of the in-flight entertainment system, which eventually led to an electrical fire and breakdown of the airplane's defenses. The death toll was 229 with no survivors.One option that can be explored as an alternate to electric wiring is the use of fibre-optics.
Cell Phone usage:
Cell phones pose a potential problem to the aircraft’s navigation system as the radio signals emitted by them are capable of causing false read-outs.
Case: Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have invented a device that can detect radio signals emitted from cell phones and other personal electronic devices. A total of 37 commercial airplanes were tested and findings have shown that on each airplane number of calls ranging from one to four was placed.
Wireless Communication Systems:
Providing wireless access services on board to passenger owned devices is of particular concern. Reason being that it provides ample opportunity for the terrorists to communicate and devise tactics and to co-ordinate with other members from both within the aircraft and from the ground.
Case: Boeing’s plan to install wireless IFE supply with 60GHz transmissions faced problems with data transfer between transmitters and receivers, where objects moving in front of antennas blocked the signal. Although other techniques have been explored to address this challenge, it leaves little doubt regarding the complications that are possible if wireless communication is offered onboard.
In the past 20 years airlines and travelers have had relatively fewer and limited options in In-Flight Entertainment category. Over the years several attempts to deliver new in-flight entertainment and communication services have been made.
The present IFE services have helped the airlines capture passenger attention. But these systems require special distribution cabling and related equipment to route the entertainment content to each seat, all of which means extra weight in the aircraft thereby reducing efficiency. Safety and security are serious concerns when it comes to IFE services. The potential threats that the present in-flight entertainment and communication services pose cannot be ignored. Although IFE has added liveliness to air travel the above issues with respect to safety and security are debatable.