I was invited on board Flydubai’s newest Boeing 737-800 this weekend (you can read what I thought about the sky interior here). Flydubai is the launch customer of the Lumexis fiber-to-the-screen (FTTS) in-flight entertainment system, and I, along with some 60 others, was one of the first to road test it.
The Lumexis FTTS is an operators dream. The back of the seat entertainment system is a widescreen, nine inch high definition screen.
What’s unique about this IFE system is the weight. Historically, comparable IFE units have weighed in at around 6.4kg per seat. That’s a lot of weight (and fuel) per passenger, which is exactly the reason why IFE is rarely seen on low cost flights.
Lumexis has reduced the weight of its system by two thirds, weighing in at just 2.3kg per seat. Doug Cline, CEO of Lumexis, tells me that they were actually aiming to reduce the weight by half, so he’s pretty happy that his IFE now weighs in at a third of the average system. The lighter weight makes it affordable for operators, particularly low cost ones.
Flydubai earns revenue on its IFE, charging upward of 25 AED for a movie. In addition to the new cabin interior on the 737, the IFE has given Flydubai a massive edge over its competitors on the short to medium haul market in the Middle East.
A head-end server is connected to each seat-back screen through a fibre optic cable, offering 1gigabit of bandwidth per second. It’s normally around 2.5mb per second through copper cabling which is why the Lumexis system can offer so much capacity, and why Flydubai can offer high definition movies and fast, fun games.
Unlike conventional IFE systems, which often have a clunky power unit under each seat, seriously affecting passenger comfort in economy class, the Lumexis power unit system is fitted into the side wall with 15 seats connecting to every box. On this 189 seat 737-800, there were 11 boxes fitted. I tried looking for them but they’re completely hidden. The only downside to this set up is that if one of the power units fails, 15 passengers lose their IFE.
Lumexis has done away with those annoying remote controls that are attached to the seat or seat back. It’s all operated by touch-screen with simple commands, making the whole experience more user-friendly.
On board Flydubai’s flight from Dubai to Beirut, the system offered 20 movies from Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic cinema, a good selection of TV programs, lots of free music (everything from Katie Perry to the Bee Gees), a destination guide (which offered a list of destinations but the guides haven’t yet been loaded) and free games including Sudoku and Solitaire. I fiddled with the games for a few minutes. The quality of the images is sharp and the game response was fast. Animations were also excellent.
Passengers can browse duty free on screen, select their items and pay by credit card. The items are then delivered to their seat in the old-fashioned way. Food and beverages can also be ordered on screen, meaning passengers no longer have to say a word to cabin crew, other than ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
The system can be loaded in 51 different languages, although Flydubai, on this Dubai to Beirut route, has opted for just four: English, French, Russian and Turkish with the option of English or Arabic subtitles. If a passenger starts watching a movie in English, they can switch languages midway through the movie without interruption or jumps. I tried it - the transition is smooth and it literally continued the sentence in the second language without any breaks.
Another nice touch is the ‘Under 16’ option. On start up, the system asks the passenger if they’re under or over 16 years of age and the movie offerings are adjusted accordingly.
At 40,000 feet, I watched ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ in high definition. The screen images were extremely sharp and the only distraction was some glare from the window. The sound is crystal clear and I could turn up the volume high enough to completely drown out all background noise. I tried watching the same movie the day before on an ICE system on the way from London to Dubai but gave up. For one, I couldn’t hear what Julia Roberts was saying as the sound was crackly. Secondly, I couldn’t see much as the visual quality of the movie was badly distorted and the poor cabin lighting didn’t help.
This experience alone has me completely sold on Lumexis’s IFE.
For quality of IFE, the Lumexis system is far superior. Doug Cline is onto a winner here. Now that the system is fitted and available for potential new customers to experience, don’t be surprised if we see Lumexis being taken up by a lot more operators.
Which operators could take it up? You’ll remember that the system was tested on-board a US Airways A320 last year. The tests were really successful and user feedback was excellent. Unfortunately for Lumexis, the cost of oil went up from $65 to $140 per barrel and US Airways simply couldn’t afford the cost of installing the hardware.
Doug says that US Airways might now be revisiting that contract. The system is best suited to carriers with large fleets. Doug says that he needs major market penetration to continue to provide the hardware at such a low cost, which is why he’s specifically targeting fleets of at least 50 aircraft.
In India, Spicejet, having recently ordered 30 Boeing 737-800s, would make the ideal next big customer for Lumexis. It would certainly raise the stakes for low cost carriers in the region.
I suggested that Emirates would probably be watching with interest, particularly as it has its own large order of 30 Boeing 777-300ERs. Doug would only say “they might” with a smile.