Baggage handler with designs on multimillion-pound Ryanair deal

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The Independent Online

Its inventor is a 40-year-old baggage handler with Alaska Airlines and his product is being hailed as the next big revolution in low-cost air travel. Welcome to the digeplayer, the latest in in-flight entertainment systems.

Its inventor is a 40-year-old baggage handler with Alaska Airlines and his product is being hailed as the next big revolution in low-cost air travel. Welcome to the digeplayer, the latest in in-flight entertainment systems.

The bombastic prediction comes, perhaps not surprisingly, from Ryanair's Michael O'Leary but the chief executive of Europe's biggest budget airline has also put his money where his mouth is by buying 6,000 digeplayers worth $12m.

Weighing about 2lbs and roughly the size of a hardback book, the digeplayer is a portable, battery-powered entertainment system capable of storing dozens of Hollywood blockbusters, cartoons, sitcoms, sports and sci-fi programmes on its hard disk.

Ryanair intends to begin trialling them in November on five of its Stansted-based aircraft and then introduce them across the network from April. Passengers will be charged an introductory rate of £5 or €7 per flight and will have to hand over their passport or driving licence along with the cash to deter them from walking off the plane with their digeplayer.

The device is the brainchild of Bill Boyer, a design engineer who took a holiday job as a baggage handler with Alaska Airlines in his student days and has stayed there ever since. He is founder, president and chief executive of APS, the company which makes the digeplayer, and he is sitting on a potential fortune.

The digeplayer is already in service on three airlines including Alaska and has been ordered by a further eight, among them Aeroflot, Monarch and KLM.

Ryanair will not disclose how much it is paying for its digeplayers or for the content but it says it will break even selling just five sets per flight and is forecasting $14m of revenues in the first year. Although Ryanair's Boeing 737s seat 189 passengers, it only plans to stock 24 digeplayers on each flight, meaning there could be a stampede to get hold of one, just as there is to get on board. What will Mr O'Leary do to keep disappointed passengers happy? "We'll sell them more alcohol."

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