Developments in aircraft seating, lighting and interiors are set to make the journey of the future more pleasurable while delivering weight, maintenance and cost savings for airlines. Emma Kelly reports.
Innovation is alive and kicking in aircraft seating, lighting, cabin configuration and materials, with manufacturers and design companies across the world shaping the future of aircraft interiors.
Environmental considerations, weight, cost, comfort and maintainability issues are at the forefront of new interior concepts, all designed to improve the passenger experience and deliver benefits to airlines.
Some 21 innovative interior products and concepts have made it into the final round of the Crystal Cabin Awards, the winners of which will be announced at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo, to take place in Hamburg, Germany in April. Some of these concepts are already flying on aircraft, whilst others provide an insight into the future.
Where and how you sit on an aircraft, particularly a long-haul flight, has to be one of the most important contributory factors in a passenger’s experience of a journey. Seating concepts and designs feature heavily in this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards, including Paperclip Design and Zodiac Seats which are proposing innovative seating concepts.
Hong Kong-based design company Paperclip Design’s Checkerboard Convertible Seating System is designed for the short-haul market and allows passenger seats to be converted from economy to business class configuration and vice versa. In business configuration, there is additional width and an extra 8inch legroom. Checkerboard gives airlines the flexibility to adjust cabin configuration for each flight, allowing them to maximise revenue while giving business customers a differentiated product, says the company.
Paperclip Design is no stranger to awards finals for its aircraft seating designs. For example, last year the company won a number of awards for its Meerkat Seat Concept. Meerkat is a long-haul economy class seating concept that is designed to enhance the passenger experience at the same time as minimising weight and maintenance costs for the airline. The Meerkat introduces a number of innovative features with minimal weight and complexity. It includes an alternative to the traditional recliner mode, with the lower portion of the backrest cushion detaching to allow a bag to be stored, pushing the backrest forward to provide a deep recline, at the same time as decluttering space around the feet and allowing the passenger to stretch their legs. In addition, Meerkat features a shared literature rack between every two seats, a headphone hook, a tray table that locks half open to form a tablet stand, an IFE underseat electronics box that doubles as a footrest and the company’s patented Paperclip armrest (a previous Crystal Cabin Award winner) which allows adjacent passengers to both use the armrest due to its two-level design.
Zodiac Seats’ Reversible Seat, meanwhile, is a seating concept designed for premium classes and VIP transport. It allows passengers to change their seating in accordance with the size of group they are travelling with or their activities. The seat mechanism allows the orientation of the seat to be reversed quickly and with minimal effort, says Zodiac. The concepts allows passengers to conduct a range of activities and promotes a shared experience, says Zodiac.
Weight saving continues to be a dominant consideration in any seat development, at the same time as taking into account passenger comfort.
Seat manufacturers including Acro Aircraft Seating and Recaro Aircraft Seating have focused on developing the lightest and yet most comfortable seat possible in recent years. Acro, for example, has the Superlight family of seats, weighing from 10kg per passenger and using lightweight materials and as few parts as possible. Recaro, meanwhile, has the lightweight Smart Line 3510 and Basic Line 3520 seats, weighing from 9.3kg per passenger.
European manufacturer Aviointeriors is expected to launch a new lightweight economy class seat, dubbed Leonardo, at the Aircraft Interiors Expo. The seat is believed to make extensive use of composite material in the structure to deliver weight savings, pushing total seat weight plus trimmings below 8kg per passenger.
Recaro has adopted environmental considerations in all aspects of its seat production and the manufacturer’s green innovations approach is another Crystal Cabin Award finalist. The manufacturer says it has scientifically examined this issue and integrated the life cycle assessment into its product development process.
New seat components are designed to improve the passenger’s experience. With the increasing use of consumer tablets as a form of in-flight entertainment, US company Smart Tray International, for example, has developed the SmartTray X1 airline tray table which features a built-in groove to support passenger’s personal electronic devices. The X1 grooved tray is simple to use, offer comfortable, hands-free viewing and protects tablets from falling off the tray, says Smart Tray.
Meanwhile, Acro Aircraft Seating has developed the Acro Ultra Arm Table Seat, another Crystal Cabin finalist. The Acro Ultra in-arm table assembly is self-cleaning, lightweight, line replaceable in less than 60 seconds and greatly improves passenger comfort and visual appeal, says Acro. The concept uses Acro’s formula of simplicity and innovative design, used with its Superlight seat family, to the in-arm table for front row seats. By making the mechanism as simple as possible, the traditional table enclosure is not required, returning the full width of the seat to the passenger and providing benefits to the operator in the form of ease of cleaning and reducing part count.
All aspects of the aircraft interior can contribute to the passenger experience and the airline’s bottom line. A lot of attention has been focused in recent years on cabin lighting, for example, with a move towards light emitting diode (LED)-based lighting systems which offer lower power consumption, improved reliability, lower maintenance costs, less heat and a better quality lighting than fluorescent tubes.
Diehl Aerospace, Lufthansa Technik and Schott are among companies at the forefront of LED lighting developments. Diehl, for example, is responsible for the LED lighting system on the Boeing 787 which features lighting colours and intensities not before seen in an aircraft cabin. Diehl is also responsible for the lighting on the new Airbus A350 XWB, which is expected to further integrate lighting with cabin lining.
Diehl Aircabin is a Crystal Cabin finalist in two categories, with its Membrane Ceiling Panels and iPanel. The membrane ceiling panels feature membranes on a supporting structure backlit by integrated lighting units, providing cabin illumination and mood lighting. Permeable membrane materials are used to enhance air flow and cabin noise reduction.
The iPanel features integrated electric wiring in the panel to power the light rather than running cables in a classic installation. The integration of electrical wiring and components into lining parts results in a 30 per cent reduction in weight, fewer parts and reduced mounting work, along with a lower risk of false connections in the manufacturing process, says Diehl.
Lufthansa Technik and Schott have developed the HelioJet which is an optical light converter at the ends of which are LEDs to provide a brilliant and homogenous light with weight, cost, reliability and maintenance benefits over other LED solutions, according to the partners.
Reduced maintenance is also a focus for new floor path marking systems. Lufthansa Technik’s ColourCurve, which is a Crystal Cabin finalist, is the first non-electrical system that can be shaped to follow any form and adapted to any interior design, says the manufacturer. ColourCurve, which is being installed as standard in the A350 XWB and Bombardier CSeries, provides up to an 8kg weight reduction on earlier products, with only two parts compared to six normally.
New cabin interior developments are also aimed at savings in weight, space and maintenance. Zodiac, for example, has three products that have reached the final stage of the Crystal Cabin Awards. Its Innovative Space Interior System (ISIS) designed for the Airbus A320 features a pivoting overhead bin that provides a 60 per cent gain in bag capacity and improves headroom. At the same time it features a light fixture with touch sensitive surfaces. The result is simple installation, reduced costs, 100 per cent recyclable sidewalls and reduced turnaround time for airlines, and more space and customer friendly interface for passengers.
Similarly, Zodiac’s Amber Interior Pivot Bins for the Boeing 737 and 757 increases stowage capacity for carry-on bags – by up to 86 roller bags. Amber features a pair of deep pivot bins staggered in an asymmetrical configuration along the length of the cabin. The patent-pending design increases cabin capacity by up to 122 per cent, says Zodiac.
Zodiac’s modular galley concept is also a finalist. The galley occupies less main deck space, requires less engineering, provides airlines with a flexible solution and supports easy retrofit, says the manufacturer.
The next generation of aircraft interior designers is already in waiting, with a number of universities proposing alternative seating configurations and interior innovations in the Crystal Cabin Awards. They might not make it off the drawing board, but they certainly stimulate thought and further innovation in the industry.
Dresden University of Technology, for example, has proposed a concept cabin which replaces heavy mechanical parts with intelligent, flexible materials, and hybrid OLED layers that convert light into energy. Sidewall panels are expanded with 3D displays, allowing an augmented reality to be presented to the passenger.
Hamburg University of Applied Sciences is a finalist with its big lavatory concept which is customised for the spec needs of obese passengers, at the same time as meeting the requirements of all passengers. The diagonal position of the toilet increases comfort and space, while a new toilet seat makes it safer for obese passengers and wheelchair users.
A third university finalist, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands is proposing a new tray table cabinet, allowing passengers to store their phones, tablets and wallets in a dedicated compartment.