When Singapore Airlines decided to spin off 14 of its older Boeing 777-200ER aircrafts into a new low-cost airline named Scoot, the company did not keep the old interior. While they are starting an airline with four jets, they expect to grow the fleet to 14 jets as parent company retires the workhorse birds from its fleet, which always has "the latest and the greatest" jets out there (Airbus A380, next-generation A350 and Boeing 787 on order, with 787 replacing the 777).

Freshly painted Scoot Boeing 777-200ER will use Apple iPad as IFE
Freshly painted Scoot Boeing 777-200ER will use Apple iPad as IFE (In-Flight Entertainment)

By starting a new company as a low-cost airline, Singapore Airlines had to address the issue of highest cost for the airline. There is no secret that the largest cost is the fuel, which makes up for 40-50% of operating expenses (in some cases, even more). Thus, every kilogram/pound of dead weight saved is something you will gladly invest in. For example, an airline would purchase economy class seat for $100,000 if that seat would be weightless or close to. Why? Because current seats are dead weight which increase the fuel burn.

The company in fact, spent a small fortune on buying the highest class, carbon-fiber based economy class seats and equipped them with – iPads, which are available for rent during the flight ($22). If you already have yours, it will fit in the holder of a seat in front of you. Their planes will seat 400 people, out of which 32 will sit in prestigious business class.

By taking the iPad route, the company said it is saving $500,000 in (current) fuel costs per aircraft annually, which is impressive to say the least. This tells us two things – current IFE (In-Flight Entertainment) systems are old dinosaurs, which weigh up to 7% of aircrafts weight (in case of a 777, we are talking about 142 metric tons when empty). Secondly, iPads can be rented more easily.

When it comes to U.S. companies, that are traditionally ahead in nickling and diming and behind in terms of service, some progress is made – United announced it will put Wireless streaming in its Boeing 747-400 jets, and offer iPads for rent, while American Airlines already offers Samsung Galaxy Tab as IFE for its select domestic fleet.

The future will bring us two things – feather light IFE screens which use fiber optics or wireless, and Wireless streaming. But next time you take a flight and look at a low-resolution screen in front, just imagine the dead weight the planes have to carry, instead of having the highest tech available?

And when I take a look at the shoddy United’s Boeing 777-200ER with which I flew from San Francisco to Taipei (via Tokyo Narita), and the 15 something year old seats, broken screen and overall a dirty state, one must ask – is it really a surprise that US carriers are suffering, given that they obviously have no idea how to make real money (Typical economy seat on United’s fleet weighs 30 kilograms. Carbon fiber seat would weigh about 17 kilos).

Final question to ask… did Scoot use iPad 2 or iPad 3… after all, iPad 2 is thinner and more importantly, weighs less. :)