Portable IFE providers rise in prominence

Washington DC
This story is sourced from Flight International
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Increased pressure on airlines to offer some form of in-flight entertainment is driving significant interest in portable players as manufacturers of such systems tout their equipment as more reliable and less costly than traditional embedded systems.

This unfettered optimism is being expressed by a growing list of vendors that are carving out business in this sector.

Portable supplier Bluebox says it is close to brokering an agreement with a carrier for 700 of its Bluebox Lite units that would more than double its current installed base of 300.

After a quiet period lasting five to six months e.Digital vice-president corporate development Fred Falk says inquiries about his company's eVU portable player have steadily risen. During the show e.Digital unveiled a deal with TUI Fly for its portable eVU player after securing business with Austrian Airlines earlier this month.

Supplier e.Digital alone has more than 5,000 units in service, while rival and portable unit pioneer DigEcor has more than 10,000 of its DigEcor 5500 and the DigEcor XT models placed with its airline customers. Garuda Indonesia earlier this year ordered the XT for use in premium cabins on its Boeing 747-400s.

However, using portables in first or business class is just one facet of the market opportunity for those products. Mezzo executive director Dave Sampson says that the number of aircraft suited for portable units - regional jets and short-to-medium haul aircraft - is much larger than those best suited for installed units.

Sampson says that since July, after a lull in oil price spikes, Mezzo, reseller of the eVU, has "been exceptionally busy with airlines" in almost every part of the world.

Driving that interest are the lower prices of portable units and their reliability. Mezzo notes since those units have are not connected to a server through wiring in the cabin "there's less that could wrong".

As portable units continue to proliferate their manufacturers are continuing to heed the call issued at the show by manager of in-flight at American Airlines Doug Backelin. "Let's face it," he says, "We all want the best for less."