Okay, so you've seen reports today that US Airways is banning movies on its domestic flights, and you're wondering: "For the love of God and all that is holy, how cheap can they get? Free water is, after all, down the toilet. I asked US Airways to explain what is truly going on. Here's the scoop.
The drop-down IFE systems on the carrier's 200 Airbus A320 family aircraft will be removed. US Airways never had IFE on its 737s (which number about 80) so there is no love lost there.
The move only affects 10% of US Airways' North American flights since the carrier only shows entertainment on flights over 2.5 hours, and again, since it's not on the 737 fleet.
"Of course this isn't unheard of, Northwest doesn't have domestic IFE, neither does Alaska, Southwest and for the most part American. We're removing it after Nov. 1," says a US Airways spokesman.
That's a fair point, but let's point out that Northwest is not exactly known for its innovation (40-year old DC-9s certainly aren't going to get new IFE); Alaska spearheaded the portable IFE movement; and Southwest's no-frills model has been it's bread and butter and ensured reasonable fares (a model it is, admittedly, changing up a bit).
So why is US Airways doing this? The carrier - which is in a major cost-cutting, revenue-enhancing mood of late - says the decision will save $10 million annually by cutting fuel burn (500 pounds per unit), maintenance and upkeep costs, and study and content costs. Plus, it says, customer behaviour has changed. "Folks are using their own devices and their own headsets so we're losing revenue by not selling them."
IFE will remain on US Airways' widebodies and Boeing 757s for transatlantic and transpacific routes.
But never fear. US Airways says it is not giving up on domestic IFE altogether.
"Ideally we wouldn't have removed the system until we had a new replacement system ready. We would have swapped them out but because of fuel we're electing to just remove the old while we continue to work on a new system. We were well down the road doing with until fuel drastically spiked upwards," says the carrier.
Significantly, US Airways is doing a test with Lumexis in October on one aircraft for about three months. This is a big deal. California-based Lumexis uses military-proven fiber optics as the basis for its platform. The company claims that its system offers "unprecedented" Gigabit-per-second bandwidth to each passenger screen at a fraction of the acquisition and life-cycle costs and weight of existing platforms.
Lumexis' offering, says US Airways is "much lighter than current IFE because it uses fiber optic technology, which also is good because it allows us to offer a lot more content than an older system using copper wiring. Fiber optic allows for much more data transfer. We're looking at several other alternatives that offer more on-demand personalized content, which is what people want nowadays."
(Cool photo above directly from Lumexis' web site at http://www.lumexis.com/default.aspx )
If you'd like ot know more about Lumexis, read my February 2006 article below.
Fiber optics at heart of new IFE system from startup Lumexis
Mary Kirby, Philadelphia (21Feb06, 22:34 GMT, 410 words)
Two well-known inflight entertainment (IFE) veterans are at the helm of a startup company using military-proven fiber optics to offer what they say will be IFE options "never before envisioned" by the industry.
Douglas Cline, former president of Sony Trans Com and developer of the Passport audio/video on demand (AVOD) system, and Richard Salter, co-founder of moving map display maker Airshow, head up California-based Lumexis, as CEO and chief technical officer (CTO), respectively.
They have launched a worldwide demonstration tour of Lumexis' fiber-to-the-seat IFE system, which provides "unprecedented Gigabit-per-second bandwidth to each passenger screen" at a fraction of the acquisition and life-cycle costs and weight of existing platforms, Salter tells ATI.
The system is installed without electronic boxes in the cabin distribution chain. "This fiber optic installation will absolutely future-proof an airplane's cabin for decades to come. The network, which has no active components between the server and the seat - and no seat box - is inherently, vastly more reliable than existing systems," he says.
It has been under development since 2003 when a researcher with management consulting group Monitor began studying fiber optic technologies patented by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and saw potential for aviation applications. Monitor had been hired by the Lockheed unit to commercialize the manufacturer's aeronautical non-military technology.
Joining forces with venture capitalists Zone Venture, Monitor created Lumexis and quickly recruited Cline and Salter, an IFE consultant.
The resulting fiber-to-the-seat IFE system offers AVOD as its baseline entertainment product, with potential for other entertainment and business applications such as full action video-conferencing. Although Lumexis has the rights to the Lockheed patent, the company has "morphed and evolved the design several times" so that the latest system architect is "highly reliable" and does not require the original patent, he says.
Positive airline feedback gives Lumexis reason to believe it will secure an airline customer within the next few months and have the system flying by the end of 2006.
Because of the system's scalability, Lumexis is targeting operators of regional jets, narrowbodies and widebody aircraft. For an operator of an IFE-equipped Boeing 747, for example, Lumexis "would literally take hundreds if not thousands of pounds [of weight] off a widebody aircraft installation", says Salter.
Adds Cline in a statement: "We have been patiently working and evolving this product by talking with airlines and installers for several years prior to coming to market. We are gratified to be out with potential airline customers and anticipate continued positive feedback."
Source: Air Transport Intelligence news