It was billed by Michael O'Leary as "the next big revolution" in low-cost air travel. But last night it looked as if the "digeplayer" - a hand-held video device allowing passengers to watch Hollywood blockbusters or play computer games - could be heading for the great technology graveyard in the sky, at least as far as Ryanair is concerned.
Ryanair admitted that trials with the in-flight entertainment system had been disappointing, raising questions over whether the airline would press ahead with plans to equip its entire fleet by placing a $12m (£6.4m) order for 6,000 digeplayers.
Trials on selected services from Stansted have been a flop, with fewer than five passengers per plane prepared to fork out the €7 (£5) it costs to hire a digeplayer for the duration of a flight. Ryanair had forecast twice that level of interest and reckoned it could generate €14m of revenues in the first year.
Michael Cawley, Ryanair's deputy chief executive, said trials with the battery-powered device had been hampered by the English language-only content of the digeplayer, the short duration of many Ryanair flights and logistical problems. More ominously, he said, Ryanair was reviewing whether the digeplayer was what passengers really wanted given that children could already gain access to games and cartoons on their own hand-held devices. "Whether this technology is the right answer is up in the air," he added.
Mr Cawley stressed that Ryanair would not suffer any financial loss if it scrapped the digeplayer. But it would certainly be a setback for Bill Boyer, the 40-year-old baggage handler with Alaska Airlines, whose brainchild it is. Aeroflot, Monarch and KLM are among eight other airlines which have ordered the digeplayer and will be watching Ryanair's decision with special interest.
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