IFE consultant sees industry partnerships as new players emerge

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A level of consolidation could be on the horizon for the embedded in-flight entertainment industry as a growing number of firms attempt to jump into the sector, industry consultant Michael Planey predicts.

"I think that what you're going to find is you'll have more partnerships and less independent development of competing technologies. You'll have two or three people try to get into the space, and one or two will succeed, and they'll have multiple partnerships with people in the industry," said Planey.

The retrofit market for IFE is thriving at present, as evidenced by the growing number of carriers opting for new retrofit-ready seat-centric solutions. To date, several firms have either revealed new seat-centric IFE systems or announced plans to do so. These are The IMS Company, Zodiac unit Sicma, Intelligent Avionics, Rockwell Collins and digEcor. Another firm, Lumexis, is offering fiber optic-based IFE, having secured FlyDubai and Transaero as customers.

Although Sicma has made inroads in gaining linefit status for its SiT IFE system on Airbus A330 and A340 widebodies, such an achievement is increasingly rare these days, and proves a costly proposition.

"It takes big dollars to get line offerability from any of the major manufacturers. That is a change in the business model that Boeing and Airbus went to about 10 years ago, where they are pushing a lot of the costs down onto their suppliers and keeping the number of suppliers limited to manage the overhead of production a bit better," noted Planey.

"It costs more than a couple million dollars to get all the testing done, working with the manufacturers and that is not necessarily something in the realm of possibility for the smaller companies from the get go. But the advantage is those newcomers' systems come in at such a price premium and weight savings that they can justify not being linefit offerable as yet, and offer viable post-delivery modifications. That's part of their business model and I think that's fine for now."

Planey also believes opportunities for faster line-fit offerability exist outside of the two major airframers, Airbus and Boeing. "It's hard to get an 800 pound gorilla to do what you want, but some of these smaller animals, like Bombardier, Embraer and Comac, are easier to work with and recognize the need to be more adaptable."