English Corner

Image: Zodiac

Aircraft cabins of the future

Von Ben West

Cabin designers are creating some amazing innovations to both enhance — and sometimes diminish — the passenger experience.

In many respects, it’s funny how we view an aeroplane journey completely differently from a bus ride. Yet, with shorthaul especially, is there much difference?

It is therefore a bit strange that whenever the idea of designing ‘vertical’ seating (ie virtually standing) for economy passengers is mooted, there’s a furore.

In 2012 colourful Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary said: "The problem with aviation is that for 50 years it's been populated by people who think it's a wondrous sexual experience when it's really just a bus with wings."

Aerospace engineering professor Fairuz Romli has calculated, using a Boeing 737-300 as an example, that a standing cabin would lead to a 21% increase in passenger capacity while dropping ticket prices by as much as 44%. A lot of passengers would find that option attractive.

It features sofas, a cafe, shop, corridors and benches

Such is the desire for airlines to shave costs and have the ability to offer ever-cheaper fares, some other pretty gruesome seating configurations have been suggested, which often offer about as much personal space as that given to an animal in the average factory farm.

Zodiac Aerospace’s Project HD31, for example, uses pop-down seats forming a kind of honeycomb pattern throughout the cabin. For every two passengers facing forward, one is facing backward, forcing people into an intimacy and eye contact with one another that’s usually more appropriate for a candlelit romantic meal.

This year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg in April has revealed a host of new innovations - including more of these wheezes that produce greater passenger yield through reduced width seating (at a time where an increasing proportion of the developed world is becoming more obese), or for example cramming in 11 seats across Airbus A380 economy, where previously there were ten seats.

More comfortable is Zodiac’s idea for economy beds. Long-haul airliners have crew rest areas usually located in the spaces above the cabin, so why not for economy passengers too? Zodiac has designed a whole new cabin that moves away from the conventional model. Named the Lifestyle Cabin, it features sofas, a cafe, shop, corridors and benches, and separate zones for families and couples. Amazingly, these features can be incorporated without reducing the existing number of seats.

British Airways, Emirates, American Airlines and Japan Air Lines have all gone for B/E Aerospace’s Viu Lighting System, which offers an “infinite array of palettes, patterns, timed intervals and lumens”, an exceptionally bright and versatile lighting system.

Portuguese airline TAP is introducing Airbus’s A330neo cabin on long-haul flights next year. Its futuristic interior has 45.72cm wide seats laid out in a 2-4-2 pattern, 34cm screens, power outlets and customisable LED mood lighting, as well as configured overhead bins and lavatories with touch-free fixtures and anti-bacterial surfaces.

“Hardly any industry is as open for creativity as the aviation industry”

Etihad Airways’ fully-enclosed first-class suites for the Boeing 787 move luxury up a notch with a fully pneumatic and customisable leather seat that converts into a flat bed, a minibar, personal closet and large table for two-person dining. London design firm Seymourpowell’s “First Spaces” design for A380 aircraft also goes for enclosed, private suites of either four single rooms or two double rooms, each with a seat that converts into a bed, alongside a table, enhanced multimedia features and plenty of storage space.

Talking of plenty of storage, British designer Steve Kearsey has come up with a overhead locker design that is more steeply raked than current configurations, which nearly doubles the amount of cases and bags that can be stowed away. Lets hope airlines take up his suggestion. Zodiac Aerospace’s Cirrus seat for business class releases odours, such as lemon and lime, espresso coffee and sleep-inducing lavender. At the other end of the scale, a five-class cabin, with first, business, premium economy, economy and lastly budget economy will soon appear on some flights.

One hopes that the new budget economy option will include a seatbelt and is not located in the cargo hold. Rebel Aero’s folding Booster economy seat design allows passengers to adjust their seating during a flight, for example to prevent neck stiffness or stand to allow other passengers to board or exit their seats. The seat can also be used as a child booster seat, eliminating the added weight of a separate child seat.

Delft University of Technology inexpensive low-tech hammock, which is slung between the headrest wings, cradles the head while sleeping, therefore preventing economy class passengers from emerging at their destination without a stiff neck.

In-flight entertainment providers like satellite communications provider Eclipse are developing systems allowing passengers to stream entertainment on their own devices and enjoy high-speed broadband, while French airline XL Airways is this month unveiling an onboard 3D films service brought by a company called Skylights, delivered via goggles that passengers will pay extra for. “Hardly any industry is as open for creativity as the aviation industry,” has said Emirates Airline president, Sir Tim Clark. Going by this stack of innovations, that’s certainly true.