Airliner cabins are the second most expensive part of the commercial aircraft after the airframe itself, so it’s no wonder that the airline interiors industry is being pressed to deliver more innovations, faster — while keeping up with more of the developed products customers are experiencing at home.
Airplane manufacturers and cabin suppliers are shaving precious centimetres off cabin walls and ceilings to provide more space, while larger windows in recent aircrafts plus LED-based mood lighting also make for a lighter, brighter and more airy cabin. Emirates’ recent introduction of centre-section first class suites with virtual windows, powered by cabins outside the aircraft, highlights that there is much more scope here as well.
Inside the cabin, too, new seats are providing more personal space even when they are pitched closer together, while the latest generation of inflight entertainment systems allows passengers to escape to new worlds even while they are flying a dozen kilometres above ours.
New Cabins & Seats
Jason Rabinowitz from Routehappy, a service that helps airlines and flight search websites show passengers what products will be on their flight, explains:
While larger airlines are leading the innovation charge with their cabins, smaller airlines are transitioning from an old fleet with dated products to new aircrafts with cabins that can rival or even exceed those of their largest competitors.
Air Tahiti Nui is for example phasing out its Airbus A340-300s with uncompelling angled flat seats in favor of new Boeing 787s with fully flat beds. This also is an opportunity to add a new Premium Economy cabin to its aircraft. Israelian El AI is also transitioning from what has historically been a hodgepodge of uncompetitive premium seats to industry leading direct aisle access Business Class seats. WestJet, a Canadian Boeing 737 low-cost carrier, is now making a major long haul push and has also announced cabins that match or exceed what its closest competitor is offering.
Direct aisle access for every business class traveller is becoming increasingly important. WestJet’s new cabins on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner feature Rockwell Collins Super Diamond fully flat beds, with outward-facing herringbone layout seats that mean every passenger has direct access to the aisle. El Al’s 787, meanwhile, uses Recaro CL6710 fully flat beds in a staggered layout that also provides aisle access for all.
These new investments aren’t without challenges, however, especially for customers, and Routehappy is one of a new generation of services helping passengers to understand the increasingly complex industry, Rabinowitz highlights:
Marketing these new products and making flight shoppers aware is tricky, and that’s a problem that Routehappy helps airlines navigate with by providing rich content via its Universal Product Attributes to distributors worldwide.
Innovations throughout the plane are surging forwards, with inflight entertainment [IFE] screens and systems benefitting from new developments in consumer electronics on the ground.
However, Rabinowitz notes,
IFE monitors are a tricky piece of hardware. They’re expensive to install and most outlive the consumer electronics lifecycle by several generations. Rather than being behind the tech specs curve as in the past, manufacturers are attempting to stay ahead these days by offering 4K-ready monitors so that when 4K content becomes available, airlines will be ready to offer it to passengers.
Marie Remboulis from Thales InFlyt Experience, one of the major suppliers of inflight entertainment systems, explains why what passengers see on the plane can often lag behind what they experience on the ground.
Any technology that is installed on a commercial aircraft is required to be tested and certified by the FAA — as well as Boeing & Airbus — to a much higher level of safety and performance than consumer electronics. Devices must not produce electro-magnetic interference that could possibly interfere with critical aircraft navigation, communications and control systems.
Further, Remboulis notes,
They must be compatible with aircraft power systems, dissipate less heat, and withstand an environment with lower atmospheric pressure and higher vibration. Passenger facing devices are also tested against liquid spills and to make sure they don’t create additional hazards in a crash simulation. All of these constraints add significant time to the development and certification process.
Once on board, the rise of “More Like This”-style recommendations from home- and mobile-based streaming services like Netflix, passengers will be pleased to find something similar. The latest systems, including the InFlyt360 platform, Panasonic Avionics’ eX3 and forthcoming NEXT systems, together with Zodiac Aerospace’s RAVE product, also include updated user interfaces that feel much more like the tablet experience passengers are used to from home — except speeding through the sky in a metal tube at nearly the speed of sound.