“Our goal is simple: To deliver a more interactive and cost effective in-flight entertainment platform that can be easily customized for Delta customers.” Perhaps it is simple for Delta Flight Products (DFP) President Rick Salanitri to put that into words but the work required to deliver on that promise is anything but. Still, DFP is now breaking out of its stealth mode startup phase. The group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, aims to be a major player in inflight entertainment and cabin retrofit work. It is well funded and could significantly disrupt the market.
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Some of the group’s products are already in service today. DFP managed the retrofit of the company’s 777s. DFP now handles design, manufacture, production and FAA certification for significant portions of the Delta interiors. As Salanitri notes, this allows the company to “control its own destiny.” DFP is not yet to the stage of designing and building full seat systems, but many associated components do come from the group. Among the highlights of the 777 project, DFP designed and built an overhead bin lift assist mechanism that helps ease the work required to close a fully loaded bin.
Bigger disruption is coming in the inflight entertainment market. Rather than minor tweaks to existing products DFP pulled together a full platform for in-seat screens and content. This DFP wireless IFE solution comes installed on the A220 and will also fly on the company’s new A330-900neo, new A321neo and 767-400 retrofit aircraft.
The A220 IFE system is the first to combine wireless technology with state-of-the-art tablet displays fixed mounted into the back of the seat, while the all-free Delta Studio content will have a similar look and feel to what is currently experienced across our fleet. The tablet displays will deliver a vivid and interactive experience to the user, and since the architecture is Delta-developed, it’s easier to migrate to new and emerging display
technology. – Delta Flight Products President Rick Salanitri
The DFP IFE solution first entered the market branded as Gogo Vision Touch. That is no longer the case. Delta is clear that the wireless IFE solution is “comprised completely of Delta-sourced and developed elements for installation on these additional fleets.” Content licensing is also handled directly on the new platform.
Delta Chief Operating Officer Gil West believes the product will deliver more than just a better, cheaper IFE solution for the carrier. He recently suggested to Wall Street analysts that DFP operate as a full-scale manufacturer and distributor of the solution for sale to other airlines. “[I]t is a fraction of the cost of what we would pay [to a third party today]… This is a business where we’ve become a manufacturer. We sell and offer this product back through the OEMs, Airbus as an example. We’ll sell this to other airlines as a system and ultimately we become an OEM.”
Development of such systems does not come cheap. And it is not a one-time cost. The ongoing investment will need a larger installation base to help cover those expenses. That may slow Delta’s development cycle slightly from a dedicated operation. Meeting the needs of multiple stakeholders is always a little harder than delivering to just one. But those other airline customers represent a huge revenue opportunity.
Convincing those other carriers to install the Delta solution could be difficult. Will the other carriers buy from a competitor? There is a precedence for such with ground handling and maintenance (MRO) services. Those verticals are also far easier to transition from one vendor to another. An IFE solution, on the other hand, comes with a longer term amortization horizon. Swapping out the kit is a labor-intensive process. Wiring and seats are replaced or refreshed, content contracts are adjusted and on-board servers are swapped. Oh, and the new system has to be paid for. Airlines cannot afford to make such changes on a whim. Third party airline customers will need to be extremely comfortable with Delta as both a vendor and a competitor airline to make that move.
In the meantime, expect to see more such developments from DFP and more challenges to established players in the passenger experience supplier ecosystem. Delta seems keen to keep bringing services in-house and, thus far, delivering on those efforts.