"IFE isn't that important anymore. I mean, seriously, all anybody really wants to do is use their own iPad in flight."
I hear this statement or a variation thereof and I sigh. It is inaccurate, short-sighted, and, dare I say it, betrays a level of ignorance.
The IFE industry is evolving to accommodate tech-savvy travelers. That means we are seeing new in-flight connectivity and streaming video solutions come to bear (or, if Ryanair's O'Leary has his way, come to bare) as well as Galaxy Tab and iPad-based portable IFE distributed to passengers.
But major contracts for embedded audio/video on demand (AVOD) systems are still being signed by airlines, particularly the long-haul variety.
A good case in point is Etihad Airways, which today announced plans to spend more than $1 billion - that's billion with a 'b', folks - on IFE and connectivity with Panasonic Avionics over the next ten years. You could buy a small fleet of NEW aircraft with that money, people.
The carrier sees a requirement to keep its passengers entertained via the same seat-back screens that so many suddenly-hot-on-the-scene industry "experts" believe will be antiquated in five years.
Showing that Panasonic's current-generation eX2 IFE system still has plenty of life to live (though no doubt in 'Fusion' slim screen iterations), Etihad will install the platform on its new Airbus A380s, Boeing 787s, and Boeing 777-300ERs, while Panasonic's Android-based eX3 solution will be fitted to the carrier's Airbus A350 aircraft. Some 16 Etihad aircraft are already equipped with eX2.
But, lo, Etihad will offer these IFE systems in conjunction with the widebody fleet-wide installation of Panasonic's Ku-band satellite-supported in-flight Internet and live television, as well as mobile connectivity via partner AeroMobile.
Etihad CEO James Hogan says:
"It is essential that we offer the most engaging and dynamic in-flight entertainment for our guests - especially on long-haul flights. We went through a comprehensive technical and commercial evaluation of what was out there in the market. Panasonic will support Etihad Airways' commitment to delivering a system that will enable us to stay at the leading edge in this all-important area."
Crucially, however, the Etihad deal will include "a full service maintenance contract".
For various reasons, MRO is generally not considered the sexiest part of the aviation industry (though I'd argue that some of the mechanics are...oh, okay, I'll be good.)
However, in addition to IFE manufacturers, MRO firms from all over the world are cashing in - or preparing to cash in - on the business being generated by IFE and connectivity equipage and long-term maintenance. Just ask the MRO providers that attend Aviation Week's annual MRO Americas conference.
Know your way around an IFE system? Then call Panasonic or jump on its web site because the California-headquartered firm is just one of myriad IFE companies in the midst of a hiring push.
And, in light of Etihad's contract, Abu Dhabi is sure to be the next hot spot for IFE installation and maintenance work.
So embedded IFE is producing jobs, 10-year MRO contracts, $1 billion-plus deals, big news headlines and plaudits from CEOs, and you still think it's making an early exit? Take off the blinders, my friend.