|Now, lets read it again with some different things underlined shall we?
By BRENT JANG
Tuesday, September 28, 2004 – Page B6
After being dogged by delays on the project, discount carrier WestJet Airlines Ltd. plans to equip at least 20 of its new aircraft with personal television screens by Christmas.
Tim Morgan, WestJet's senior vice-president of operations, said he expects final approval by mid-October from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration for allowing a service called LiveTV on WestJet's entire fleet.
Delays in FAA approvals have meant that instead of having screens on 39 aircraft by this year's first quarter, the project is nearly one year behind schedule.
Amid the disappointment, WestJet is trying to look on the bright side. The Calgary-based airline is hoping that this fall's rollout of LiveTV will be an effective way to gain the upper hand in its fight against a revamped Air Canada. Montreal-based Air Canada will emerge from bankruptcy protection on Thursday.
WestJet is seeking to attract more passengers this fall and during the busy holiday season -- the first three months of Air Canada's existence under its new parent, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc.
WestJet is placing a strategic bet on LiveTV, investing $22-million to have the new technology installed on 39 planes by the end of next April.
So far, however, WestJet only has two aircraft out of its fleet of 53 equipped with the screens from Florida-based LiveTV LLC, a wholly owned unit of JetBlue Airways Corp. of Kew Gardens, N.Y.
After the anticipated FAA certification, it should take just four days to equip a single Boeing 737-700 series aircraft with LiveTV, Mr. Morgan said.
And if all goes smoothly in outfitting two aircraft at a time at an Abbotsford, B.C., site, WestJet could have 22 planes in service by Christmas, counting one aircraft already in service and another currently being inspected by the FAA.
WestJet believes the personal screens with 24 live satellite channels will give it a much-needed competitive edge amid fierce fare wars, especially as Air Canada exits court protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act.
Air Canada chief executive officer Robert Milton said his airline has no interest in retrofitting its planes with a competing version of live television. However, he said Air Canada will aggressively spruce up its fleet over the next couple of years to have individual screens on the back of seats, with the main difference being that those screens will show recorded programming.
Both WestJet and Air Canada have been hurt by rising jet fuel costs, so any competitive advantage to help fill empty seats is welcome.
LiveTV's in-flight system features 24 channels that broadcast live. The satellite feed for the stations is supplied by Bell ExpressVu LP, and the signal is good for both domestic and transborder flights to the United States from Canada.
As the new aircraft with screens are brought on stream, older Boeing models will be phased out of WestJet's flight schedule.
WestJet's fleet could be expanded to 66 planes by the end of 2005, and the goal is to eventually have all of them equipped with screens on the back of passenger seats.
"When you're sitting right behind it, it's like looking at a big-screen TV," Mr. Morgan said. "The channel selector is in your armrest and you have individual headsets."
That means family trips that seem to last all too long could go faster and happier, with passengers able to select their own channel.
"If you've got kids and if you're flying from Toronto to Vancouver, that's a long flight. What are you going to do? You run out of games to play and things to do. So, it's great for families -- they can watch TV."
Mr. Morgan said that while there's a mix of channels for all ages, WestJet is experimenting and expects to have more stations in future with programming for young children while keeping a mix of sports and news stations.
WestJet kicked around the concept of personal TV screens on flights three years ago and decided at the time that they weren't needed. But as the discounter expanded from its short-haul roots and became a long-haul carrier, LiveTV became more attractive.
"When you're faced with a choice of flying an airline that has live television with 24 channels or one that doesn't for the same price, you're going to pick the one that has the TV," said Jacques Kavafian, an analyst with Research Capital Corp.
WestJet is optimistic about LiveTV because JetBlue and Denver-based Frontier Airlines Inc. have had success in the United States boosting their load factors -- the proportion of seats filled -- by offering personal TV screens.
Adding LiveTV isn't an extravagant venture for WestJet, Mr. Kavafian said.
"WestJet is a low-cost carrier. It doesn't have business class and it doesn't have airport lounges. But low cost doesn't mean no frills. It used to mean that, but it doesn't have to."
It's possible that WestJet could later charge a nominal fee to passengers wanting to watch TV on its flights, but whatever the case, if the airline is able to attract more passengers, then the extra profit could pay for the costs of LiveTV installation, Mr. Kavafian said.