Air India ‘plans’ to install wifi-streaming IFE

Non-functional IFE screens are not new to Air India, especially on the 777s, which fly on their longest routes, to the USA. Air India has several times tried to mitigate the situation but failed. Instead of replacing these IFE screens, Air India put out a tender last year for 100 iPads. If a passenger had a non-functional IFE, he/she could request an iPad for the flight. But that didn’t see the light of the day.

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Air India 777 at Mumbai airport

Air India has a creative solution. Air India plans to install streamable IFE across the entire fleet except the 747-400, of which they have 4. They have released a tender for procuring wireless streaming equipment, named IFE through WiFi, for A319, A320ceo/neo, A321, 777-300ERs, 777-200LRs and 787-8s.

Vistara was the first to test streamable IFE, called Vistara World in India in 2015 but they quietly discontinued it, only to bring it back in 2018 with a different vendor. Jet Airways had made significant strides in streamable IFE, with  Jet Screen on most of their aircraft while Vistara World offers 70 hours of content, JetScreen, which is based on conventional streamable IFE system used to provide around 300 hours of content through a tie-up with Global Eagle Entertainment.

Air India’s tender is an interesting read. Some of the¬†takes from the bid are,

  • a minimum onboard Server with 2 TB SSD / 500 hours content or more storage capacity
  • Wi-Fi system operating on aircraft power preferred over battery-operated system
  • ¬†Software Application (app) provided should be user-friendly, downloadable on-board through Wi-Fi from the stored server on board. Not just that, they’d love for it to interface with the existing UIs on board and integrate the call button and reading light as well.
  • Offers are invited for installing and commissioning of Wi-Fi system for five years and sharing a fixed amount of revenue from advertising.
  • The IFE on the Wi-Fi system should be upgradable for connectivity to meet future plans

At least, Air India has specified that it can be upgraded to full connectivity in future. Back in 2017, Air India had envisaged providing free WiFi to passengers by tieing up with BSNL when the government approvals are in place. BSNL has tied up with Inmarsat to provide inflight-connectivity in India. They are the first in India to get an inflight and maritime connectivity service provider (IFMC) license, which was awarded in April 2019.

Vistara installed a BlueBox WOW for wireless streaming of IFE. BlueBlox WOW is a cost-effective portable streaming IFE system with 15 hours of continuous streaming on a single charge. It can store up to 1.6TB of content.

The advantage of BlueBox WOW is that it does not have to be installed on an aircraft, like conventional streaming systems. So no aircraft downtime or approvals. But it does not meet Air India’s criteria, perhaps due to the fact that it won’t be useful for full connectivity later.

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Broken IFE screen on Air India

Air India specifies that AIESL will carry out the installation of the streamable IFE system initially on a single aircraft of each of the aircraft types in the fleet. This shouldn’t be a problem as Air India has at least one aircraft from each family grounded at the moment.

Air India specifies that the finalist bidder should assist AIESL to install the systems on a single aircraft from each aircraft type within four months of awarding of the tender. As a point of comparison, it took Jet Airways 40 hours in 5 shifts to install JetScreen on a single 737.

Furthermore, the selected bidder should provide systems for all aircraft within seven months of awarding the tender. So if the bid is successful, expect wireless streamable IFE on all Air India aircraft by the end of 2019.

The most interesting point to note is that Air India wants the bidder to provide the systems for free. Air India expects the buyer to recuperate the costs through advertisements in IFE. Not only that, but Air India also wants a share in that revenue too.¬†Air India has capped the ad at 20% of content time. And they won’t pay for the hardware.

It doesn’t end here. One of the terms is that Air India can add advertisements on their own but won’t share revenue with the service provider from that.

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Air India’s tender note for streamable IFE

Good luck finding a service provider who will agree to those terms, or am I missing something. There are several conventional streamable IFE system providers in the market like Global Eagle, Panasonic, ViaSat, KID Systeme’s SKYfi Club and so-on. Another vital problem passengers face on Air India 777s are the broken seats. And this isn’t new. Broken seats is an issue as far back as 2014 and probably even more.

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Broken seats on Air India

Good news is that Air India has issued a tender to repair a few broken seats on the 777s in its fleet. Specifically, Air India wants the bidder to fix the plastic parts in the fractured seat assemblies.

I know and so does everyone, Air India’s cabin, especially on the 777s, is in dire need of a significant upgrade. Completely new seats and IFE is the only solution. But since Air India is struggling financially, it looks like seat repairs and procuring streamable IFE systems for free are the only stop-gap arrangement it can afford.

What are your thoughts on Air India’s intentions for streamable IFE? Will the Air India Inflight Entertainment System see the light of day anytime soon?

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