Cathay gets ready for some light entertainment
Screens on the back of airline seats are likely to be phased out over the next few years as an increasing number of carriers find that broadcasting movies or music through Wi-fi is more cost-effective.
Cathay Pacific Airways is considering changing its on-board entertainment system to reduce the weight of the plane by at least one tonne. That will translate into less fuel burned and save costs at a time when airlines' profits are being dented by relatively high fuel prices.
'It is the next generation of inflight entertainment,' said John Slosar, chief executive of Cathay Pacific. He thinks the popularity of tablets among flyers will assist changes in inflight entertainment.
Slosar said Cathay would definitely 'be looking at it', but was not likely to implement the new system for the next five to six years, when he estimated that 85 per cent of people would own tablets. An aircraft could be one to two tonnes lighter without the screen and its cables, he said.
Today, about 10 per cent of passengers carried tablets, an official from the Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines said.
'It is definitely a trend, a revolution in all kinds of on-board entertainment,' the official said. 'Even the paper and magazines passengers carry can be downloaded onto these gadgets. That's the reason our product development department is looking into it closely.'
Some airlines have already implemented the service. Australian budget carrier Jetstar, a unit of Qantas, has bought 3,000 iPads and plans to buy more to be used on its routes from Australia.
When Jetstar introduced the iPads late last year, the carrier said the latest releases in movies, television shows and music direct from Hollywood, as well as the latest generation of games, e-magazines and e-books, would be available on the devices.
Virgin Australia also said it would launch a similar service soon.
Across the Pacific, American Airlines rolled out a Wi-fi-based inflight entertainment option last year. Passengers pay for each television show or movie streamed to the tablet on demand.
Earlier this month, budget long-haul airline Scoot, owned by Singapore Airlines, said it would take two tonnes of entertainment equipment out of its fleet and instead offer iPads, which it said would cut an aircraft's weight by 7 per cent. The iPads will be loaded with movies, music, games and television shows. Scoot plans to charge economy class passengers to use the iPads, but business class travellers can use them for free.
Passengers will eventually be able to access content via a wireless system. Qantas is also conducting trials of a similar product.
But there is still a debate over whether the Wi-fi signal could interfere with cockpit communications. And questions remain about how the service and quality of movies might be affected when many passengers are trying to watch the same movie at the same time.
Cathay expects this proportion of people to own tablets in 5-6 years•Without screens and cables, aircraft could be one to two tonnes lighter