When the Federal Aviation Administration said earlier this year that it was okay for airline passengers to keep using their tablets and smartphones during takeoffs and landings, it also provided a little more lift for Web Barth's latest entrepreneurial adventure.
After all, if you're ready to debut a new system that will let airplanes stream movies and other content directly to passengers' mobile devices, what could be better?
"You take a 45-minute flight, and all of a sudden you've added another half-hour," Barth told KING5 News. "Or if you're flying to New York, maybe you've added an hour to it. People get really antsy when they're sitting at the gate. That's really when they want entertainment."
StoreBox InFlight is a possible solution - a wireless network on a plane that sends out new movies, music, books, daily newspapers and games to the tablets, smartphones and laptop computers that passengers bring with them. Barth's Bellevue-based company touts itself as an inexpensive alternative for airlines looking for new ways to provide inflight entertainment without relying on shared screens that either drop down from the ceiling or are embedded in seat backs.
The system's equipment basically consists of lightweight servers and three wireless access points, along with a 4G connection that lets planes upload new data while at the gate. StoreBox InFlight costs $96,000 per plane vs. traditional screen systems that can carry million-dollar price tags. "Nobody wants to put a $2 million system on an end-of-lifecycle aircraft," Barth said..
StoreBox InFlight can be installed on any size plane overnight at the ramp, keeping aircraft from being out of service at an estimated cost of $65,000 per day, he added. The company is in the final stages of FAA compliance tests and should be flying in a couple of aircraft in February. Barth hopes to sign a lot of airlines at a major air show in Hamburg in April.
Barth believes his solution can not only help price-conscious airlines differentiate from their competitors, but will also help his company separate from other inflight technology providers. "There may be a lot of people that will build systems that can stream. Our focus is on listening to the airlines and building a system that they can afford, not only from an installation standpoint because it's inexpensive, but from an operating standpoint as well."
Barth's knowledge of what it takes to provide inflight entertainment is based on his previous experience developing the digEplayer, a handheld hard drive-based device now used in two dozen airlines worldwide, including Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. That was in 2003, before wireless usage became common on planes and consumers joined the mobile device revolution. Barth now believes 90 percent of passengers are carrying their own screens.
StoreBox InFlight's management wants to convince airlines to offer onboard content streaming for free by providing other ways to monetize the service, such as destination advertising, inflight e-commerce and passenger data analytics.
"We have a couple of partners that can sell this locally. Some of these casinos in Las Vegas said they'll pay us just to be able to advertise to people who are en route to Vegas," he said. "There are a lot of destination markets where you don't need too many of these advertisers to help offset these costs."
Barth, a silver-haired entrepreneurial veteran with 30 years of experience in developing and launching new products, assembled team members with similar backgrounds. "Two of them are heads of entertainment for the largest airlines in the world, one of them is installing equipment on airlines all over the world today. We're all in our late 50s, early 60s. Two of them actually came out of retirement for this.
"One guy came up to me at a trade show and said, 'what is this, the Over The Hill Gang?" Barth laughed. "Come on, just one last bank job, this is the big one."