Air Transport World

'Fewer, simpler, more intelligent': airlines are taking a much harder look at the costs and benefits of inflight entertainment and communications in the post-9/11 world. (IFE).

At a time when airlines are rationing plastic utensils to save money, few are in the market for elaborate and weighty new entertainment systems that devour fuel. Inflight Internet access, once touted as the next essential thing for the business traveler, has been slow to make an appearance as well.

Even before 9/11, the inflight entertainment industry was experiencing a significant slowdown. Worldwide IFE spending in 2001 was about $1.57 billion, a 25% drop from the previous year. In the Americas, 2001 IFE expenditure was down even more sharply--50% in some areas.

The numbers are a bit skewed, according to the World Airline Entertainment Assn., which provided the figures at its annual conference here in September. According to WAEA, the industry's phenomenal growth in the 1990s was fueled by one-off investments in e-mail trials, interactive system launches and other exceptional items, all of which came to a virtual halt in 2001. WABA President Kent Craver, manager-onboard product marketing and research for Continental Airlines, put it mildly when he dubbed the last 12 months as "a year of so many challenges" for the IFE industry.

Based on spending in the first half, WAEA estimates that year-end figures for 2002 will show expenditures creeping up slowly to about $1.8 billion with the resumption of some aircraft deliveries that were postponed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. …

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