Flybe IFE trial to begin later this summer

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UK regional carrier Flybe intends to begin trials of a free wifi-based in-flight entertainment system in the "latter part of the summer" on six of its Embraer 195s.

Passengers will be able to access a server pre-loaded with programming via their personal devices such as Apple iPads or laptops.

The carrier is working with "a number of leading entertainment programming providers" to gain access to content, says Simon Lilley, Flybe director of marketing. However, the majority of this will be geared towards the business passengers who make up around 45% of its total customers, he says.

Initially passengers will only be able to view the pre-loaded content, but the service may be extended to allow access to emails or text messaging.

Scheduled to last between three and six months, the trial is designed to test customer response to the service, says Lilley. If it proves successful it will be rolled out across its fleet of E-195 and E-175 aircraft, he adds.

At present the airline has no plans to offer the IFE on its fleet of Bombardier Q400 aircraft given the short sectors typically flown by the turboprops, although Lilley acknowledges this could change if there is sufficient customer demand.

He says: "We are looking to add value to the customer experience but not burden the business with additional costs.

"It's another differentiator between Flybe and the competition."

Flybe is able to offer the service through its relationship with US company AirDat which is fitting airborne weather-reporting equipment, which includes a satcom channel, on its fleet in order to provide real-time meteorological observations. Customers will access programmes on a server provided by USA-based Avionica.

Flybe is currently equipping the first E-195 with the AirDat system, with 13 more of the type to undergo the modification this year. Its growing fleet of E-175s - the airline has six in service with a further four scheduled for delivery in the its current financial year - will then undergo the same modification, says Lilley.