By David Flynn, March 9 2011

Jetstar is pushing ahead with plans to use the iPad for in-flight entertainment on its domestic and international flights beginning next month.

(The airline will be using the original first-generation iPad, not the latest iPad 2 model – so hopefully Jetstar is moving fast to take advantage of the cut-price deals now available to pick these up for less than $400 each!)

The iPads will be fitted with a custom case containing a second battery so they can run for over 20 hours between recharges.

The cases will be swapped out during the aircraft's turn-around time, although the iPads themselves will remain on board, with freshly charged battery packs being brought on board and fitted to the iPads for their next leg.

A flip-stand on the case will allow passengers to rest the iPad horizontally on the seat’s tray table, while the case also contains an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip to help prevent the iPad being stolen by light-fingered passengers.

Jetstar has also signed a "48 hour replacement agreement" with "an authorized Apple repairer" to ensure that problematic iPads are quickly fixed.

Each iPad will come preloaded with music, TV shows and music videos, games, ebooks and magazines. However the latest-release movies could be missing from the menu according to Stellar Inflight, the company tasked with lining up content for Jetstar’s inflight iPads.

In a presentation on Jetstar’s iPad plans during an aviation industry conference late last month (and snaffled by Mary Kirby at her Runway Girl blog), Stellar Inflight batted down questions over the available of ‘early window content’ – current screening or recent-release movies which have to be issued on DVD.

A slide on the availability of early window content noted that the “process (is) underway with Hollywood studios but no approvals as yet” – and stated that while early-window content was “desirable and being pursued”, it was “not necessarily critical for launch”.

“Whilst Hollywood early window content is obviously considered an attractive customer proposition, the iPad offers much more than a traditional in-flight entertainment system as there are unique content possibilities available” Stellar notes.

The company says that it has already secured content deals with “gaming publishers, e-magazine and e-book publishers, record companies (for music and music videos), television distributors (and) news publishers”.

The last one is significant as News Ltd’s iPad-only Daily e-newspaper was singled out in a later slide as being among the content possibilities.

Stellar says that all content on the iPad will be protected by a “custom encryption algorithm” and that content loading “does not involve the Apple iTunes ecosystem”.

Content in the Jetstar iPad app will be broken into genres, as this screen from the TV menu's Comedy gallery shows

Bluebox Avionics, which will provide the software and hardware integration for Jetstar, notes that “independent testing” of the iPad for potential interference with aircraft’s flight systems has been “successfully completed”, as has the device’s RFID theft protection system.

The presentation specifically called out the challenges of "working with a very different organization in terms of support and approach (Apple, not Jetstar!)" and admitted that "parts of the implementation were more difficult than first thought", which in turn led to a delay to Jetstar's previously-planned December 2010 debut due to “non-technical” reasons – which can be read as issues in dealing with Apple and the iPad's content provider.

For all that, the presentation says that Jetstar’s choice of the iPad for its in-flight system was never in doubt, citing  an “unwavering view from Jetstar Management that the iPad was their device of choice.”

Factors listed in the iPad’s favour include:

  • "Superb battery life reduces logistical challenges for long-haul and (short-turnaround) value-based airlines such as Jetstar"
  • "The iPad’s slimness, even with the attached external stand and long life battery, lends itself well to cart storage"
  • "Screen/image quality and interface second to none – in our opinion significantly better than Android powered devices – even without the iPhone 4 style ‘retina display’, rumored to be being held off until iPad 3."

No specifics were offered on the price which passengers will pay to rent the iPad, although the airline has discussed charging $10 per flight.

While a Jetstar spokesperson has advised Australian Business Traveller that the launch of the inflight iPads will take place next month, the presentation provided more details on Jetstar’s rollout plans.

The system will first arrive on Jetstar’s fleet of Airbus A320 and A321, which currently service domestic routes as well as flights to New Zealand and Asia.

Rollout on the international-class Airbus A330 is slated “by mid-2011” with more to follow, from additional A320 and A321 aircraft to Jetstar’s first Boeing 787 Dreamliners due by the end of 2012.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

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