Low-cost carrier flydubai scolds IFE suppliers


At the outset of the 2014 Airline Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, Germany, flydubai’s VP, inflight product expressed sincere gratitude to his IFE supplier, Lumexis Corporation, for its pivotal role in the young carrier’s mounting success and financial profitability. He then proceeded, with his next breath, to firmly scold the IFE supplier community for its failure, in general, to truly “fit the brief” when it comes to developing forward-thinking solutions that will enable airlines like flydubai to meet the evolving needs of increasingly content hungry and tech-savvy passengers.

Daniel Kerrison took the podium at 10:20 on the morning of Monday, April 7, and provided press, vendor and airlines delegates with a few facts and figures on flydubai, its relatively short history as an airline and the diversity of the region which it serves. Quite the captivating speaker, Kerrison described his airline’s “insatiable appetite for innovation”, its ultra-young all-Boeing 737 fleet (average aircraft age is just 7 years), first-generation cabin product and seating configurations, and the popularity of its recently introduced (October 2013) business class product – featuring handsome seats developed by Italian manufacturer Geven and integrated into the carrier’s newly-partitioned narrow-body cabins by TIMCO Aerosystems.

He also spent a fair portion of his time in the morning’s first plenary session telling the story of flydubai’s bold and somewhat risky decision, back in 2010, to become the first carrier to install the Lumexis Corporation’s new fibre-optic based inflight entertainment solution as a retrofit option on 44 Boeing 737’s, fresh out of production. In fact, flydubai was Lumexis’ first IFE customer … period.

“We had no idea if this thing would work. We were being asked to commit to installing this system on a fleet of 44 airplanes, which would probably fly around with it for 8-10 years, with no evidence that the system would actually work at 35,000 feet,” explained Kerrison, adding that in addition to functional uncertainties, there was another catch. “Boeing, at the time, were not the least bit interested in Lumexis Corporation. The system was not available for instillation during production, which meant for us (as the launch customer for Boeing’s wonderful new Sky Interior), that we would be buying these airplanes from Seattle, flying them over to retrofit facility somewhere, ripping out the Sky Interior, installing IFE system, piecing the airplane back together, and eventually flying it off to Dubai and into service. [Doing this to] a brand new airplane? This is not a very attractive proposition for any airline.”

Advertising a system at half the cost and one third of the weight of the traditional embedded platforms (not to mention promises of unmatched reliability), the Lumexis sales pitch was tempting enough that is prompted flydubai to conduct a detailed risk analysis on the product. Finally, said Kerrison, the airline concluded that “with this system, and only with this system, we had the possibility to neutralize the cost of providing our customers with inflight entertainment.”

And that’s what just what they did. By charging customers to use the IFE system, flydubai has been able to recover all costs associated with content: from licencing and integration costs, to fuel burn associated with carrying the weight of the system, and even appreciation on initial investment. As far as Kerrison is aware, flydubai is only airline in the world that can lay claim to this achievement.

But just when Kerrison’s presentation was beginning to sound a bit like an endorsement for Lumexis, he changed the tune of his song, bringing up another valid point. The Lumexis system was developed back in 2009. This means that it already pre-dates the first generation of Apple iPads, yet it still being installed on flydubai’s jets. Furthermore, it will need to remain in service for at least 3-5 more years, possibly longer. But passengers, he says, are already becoming frustrated by aspects of its performance, such as the inability to “swipe” the screen (like they do with their smartphones) due to the system’s older, resistive, touchscreen technology.

Regardless of how very pleased flydubai is with the overall performance of its cabin product suppliers, especially Lumexis, Kerrison stated that he is altogether underwhelmed by the slow pace of true manufacturer innovation in the cabin, especially when it comes to IFE.

“It’s embarrassing for our industry that the Lumexis system is the only one in the world capable of providing economically viable content,” he said. “We are installing this equipment that none of us would be willing to use ourselves. There is a real disconnect here.”