WestJet to test new IFE solution in early 2013

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Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet plans to start testing a new Wi-Fi-enabled in-flight entertainment (IFE) offering from early 2013, as it looks to offer a next generation IFE product on its Boeing 737 aircraft.

The carrier hopes to eventually equip its aircraft with Wi-Fi and onboard servers that will be able to stream content directly to travellers' personal devices, the airline's chief executive Gregg Saretsky told Flightglobal earlier this month.

A test aircraft will begin flying in the late first quarter or early second quarter of 2013, he added. Assuming that the tests go well, the airline will aim to roll the system out across the rest of its fleet, he said.

Saretsky declined to commit to a timeline for the new IFE offering, saying that the airline still has to cross many hurdles.

WestJet, which will operate a fleet of 100 737 narrowbodies by end-2012, currently offers Live TV on its flights. However, recent changes in satellite infrastructure by Live TV provider Bell in Canada has resulted in Live TV being available only on domestic Canadian flights, said Saretsky.

As a result, the airline now offers four pay-per-view channels free of charge on flights to the US.

As WestJet works on a concrete plan for its next generation IFE offering, it is conducting a trial of the Samsung Galaxy tablet on three new aircraft there were delivered without the Live TV system. The tablets are pre-loaded with content and will act as a "bridge" before WestJet's next generation IFE offering, said Saretsky.