Closed captioning: DoT buys time
The US Department of Transportation has moved to give the IFE industry and the airlines a breathing space before they have to spend to add closed captions to all video content (Inflight Online, February 27).
Three years ago the DoT issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) with the intention of compelling equipment manufacturers, content providers and airlines to make IFE and onboard information fully accessible to the hard of hearing. Any ruling that may ultimately emerge will apply to all airlines operating within or into the USA.
Until recently it had been expected that a mandate would be announced before the end of this year. But now it has been revealed that the DoT, evidently recognising that this is not the best time to pile costs on the airlines, plans to temporise by issuing a supplemental NPRM next year.
Simultaneously, IFE industry trade association the World Airline Entertainment Association (WAEA) is building bridges with the US hard-of-hearing community, the prime mover behind the original DoT initiative.
The WAEA says that bodies like the US National Association of the Deaf are looking to improve their understanding of the issues. Under the leadership of executive director Richard Owen, the WAEA is now marshalling its membership for the educational effort, clearly hoping that the lobbyists will moderate their demands once the potential impact on a cash-strapped industry has been spelled out.
The IFE industry has not been sitting on its hands since 2006, however. At least two leading players have come up with technical solutions in anticipation of closed captioning becoming the law sooner or later. In-seat IFE leader Panasonic has developed a graphics-based solution – it has already been adopted by Emirates - while handheld specialist The IMS Company is pinning its faith on a text technology that it describes as cheaper and more flexible.
The Panasonic solution, which incidentally is supported by primary competitor Thales, has been approved by the WAEA Technical Committee as an “informative reference” supplement to the WAEA 0403 standard for digital content. It will be submitted to the WAEA board for final approval on May 1. The IMS Company is seeking the same status for its own approach.