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The Thales AVANT in-flight entertainment system on board Qatar Airways’ A350 aircraft.

APEX Insight: Streaming is the way of in-flight entertainment in the future, says Qatar Airways CEO, His Excellency, Akbar Al-Baker, who understands there’s nothing more frustrating than a malfunctioning IFE system. “When an airline provides an amenity that does not operate 100 percent the way it [should be], you upset passengers more than not providing it in the first place,” he said.

His Excellency Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, is well known in the industry for making bold statements and even bolder predictions. In that respect, he did not disappoint when speaking to IATA World Passenger Symposium attendees in Hamburg, Germany when he declared the future of IFE will be a fully connected, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model.

“Everything streamed,” he said. “I think this is the way forward because putting IFE in the airplane is first weight and excessive cost by the suppliers.”

Besides weight and cost, Al-Baker also cited service issues as a threat to the future of embedded IFE. “I’m sure that some of the people in this room have experienced, at some point or another, that the IFE is not working. When an airline provides an amenity that does not operate 100 percent the way it [should be], you upset passengers more than not providing it in the first place,” he said.

Al-Baker predicted that within the next five to seven years, passengers will bring their own smart devices on board, which they’ll have the option of fixing onto the seat back, to enjoy their own blend of content – from various online sources, their own media subscriptions and the airline-supplied offerings – streamed through in-flight connectivity.

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Akbar Al-Baker smiles for the camera at the Airbus A350 XWB Delivery to Qatar Airways, December 2014.

“We, as an airline, will have to still provide the connections to some of that exclusive entertainment, but for me, that proposition is cheaper than putting complex IFE systems in,” he said.

During a panel, when challenged by BBC’s Rajan Datar on the feasibility of streaming content on board to all passengers who might want it, Al-Baker was optimistic that technology would provide solutions.

“I think there are so many advances in technology that there will be massive storage capabilities in the airplane, including that the 300, or 400, or even 500 people can see all the content at the same time. As the technology advances, there will be so much they can do with their smart devices. I don’t think that they will get bored,” he said.

The future of embedded IFE, even on Qatar Airways, however, could be safe, with the right business case. During the same interview, Qatar Airways’ CEO said passengers don’t like to see common services on board just disappear.

“Once you give them something, you cannot take it away,” he said. “Even if you do a slight change in the service you provide to the passenger, it’s very important that you keep it up, once you give them something.”

“When you remove 100,000 kilos weight from the airplane, you start consuming less fuel and that small part is what would cover something that you want to give to the passenger.” – Akbar Al-Baker, Qatar Airways CEO

The challenge will be finding balance between the benefits of embedded entertainment passengers are accustom to, and the future benefits financed by savings of [non-]embedded IFE. To that, Al-Baker said, “When you remove 100,000 kilos weight from the airplane, you start consuming less fuel and that small part is what would cover something that you want to give to the passenger.”