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DigEcor eyes growth in 2009 as portables gain prominence

Take-up of DigEcor's portable in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems could grow this year as airlines defer or cancel deliveries for new aircraft equipped with installed IFE hardware, predicts the firm's president and COO Brad Heckel.

"Last year was not a great year for airlines as far as the economy but with our current customer base we have done extremely well expanding our programmes. We have also been able to pick up one or two new clients," says Heckel.

"We see a number of opportunities that have been delayed [in the past] but that are now on the horizon, and will hopefully come to fruition this year."

The cost differential associated with bringing portables in-flight versus offering passengers embedded IFE systems "is huge", says Heckel, noting that portables "are only about 40% the weight of a fully installed system".

"That value proposition is very compelling when you look at operating cost savings for fuel, but also installation costs are much lower because you don't have go get STCs and certification and take an aircraft out of service, and all the associated costs that goes along with an embedded system."

IFE and connectivity consultancy IMDC recently predicted that deployment of portable IFE players on aircraft could rise by up to 15% in 2009 as cash-strapped airlines seek less costly solutions to installed IFE.

As the market goes down, says IMDC chief executive Wale 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.

Installed IFE giant Panasonic Avionics remains confident that most of its airline customers will push forward with plans for IFE retrofits "and new aircraft IFE plans". The company notes that Airbus and Boeing are forecasting robust production rates for 2009 despite the current global economic crisis.

DigEcor, which claims a 40% market share in the portables space, deploys its DigEplayer 5500 and XT models at airlines worldwide. Last year, the firm displayed a prototype DigEplayer XT ICE (inflight, connectivity, entertainment) at the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) conference and exhibition.

The new system's unveiling came as US carriers began offering in-flight connectivity to passengers. Indeed, DigEcor's first customer, Alaska Airlines, is slated to shortly begin trialling Row 44's Ku-band-based connectivity system.

Heckel admits that DigEcor is still assessing the level at which passengers will use connectivity onboard aircraft. But he says the firm wants passengers to be able to access the Internet over its portable player to take advantage as much as possible of whatever bandwidth is available.

Even as connectivity expands, and passengers use their own personal electronic devices onboard aircraft, there are going to be passengers that want to use what is offered onboard, says the DigEcor executive.

Nonetheless, DigEcor continues to focus on differentiating itself in others ways.

"The more that we can focus on giving them an entertainment experience that they truly enjoy, in terms of variety of content, the type of content, the way it's displayed and the ease of use of the player, the more satisfied overall that airline passengers seem to be," says Heckel.

The company also reveals it has ongoing programmes "where we are looking at more semi-permanent installations that would not require the type of wiring of an embedded system".

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