IMDC chief predicts "good year" for portable IFE makers

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Deployment of portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) players on aircraft could rise by up to 15% in 2009 as cash-strapped airlines seek less costly solutions to installed IFE, IMDC chief executive Wale Adepoju predicts.

As the market goes down, says Adepoju: "Some airlines say 'we can't afford to do [installed IFE] now, so let's put portables on board'."

Additionally, he says, when airlines defer delivery of new aircraft - which are now generally equipped with installed IFE - they start using portables on existing aircraft.

"Portables might go up by 10% to 15% in 2009. It's going to be a good year for those guys," forecasts the industry consultant.

Increased pressure on airlines to offer some form of IFE has been driving significant interest in portable players for some time. During the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition in September 2008, portable manufacturers such as Bluebox, e.Digital and DigEcor reported strong interest in their products and a number of pending deals.

Airlines are attracted to the lower costs associated with offering portable units and the systems' reliability. Since the units are not connected to a server through wiring in the cabin "there's less that could wrong", notes Mezzo, a reseller of e.Digital's eVU portable players.

Meanwhile, installed IFE makers may have reason to be concerned in 2009. IFE and connectivity consultant Michael Planey notes that Airbus and Boeing "are talking about being stuck with whitetails this year, built with IFE systems".

He adds: "How does that hurt Panasonic and Thales? Do they have a system sitting on an airplane without being in revenue service? Two or three of those starts to affect the bottom line."