Smart and light-weight designs major theme in aircraft interiors today

Last week, the Aircraft Interior Expo took place in Long Beach, California. As airlines stress weight savings to burn less fuel with higher oil prices and stricter environmental regulations ahead, the main innovations the drew attention at the show were smarter and lighter solutions in seating, inflight entertainment and onboard catering. 

At the European edition of the event, earlier this year in Hamburg, MmilleniumM Group’s ‘Air Sleeper’ seat concept made headlines, and this time Italian aircraft interiors specialist Aviointeriors unveiled its ‘SkyRider’ saddle-style seat. The ultra-high density configuration lets passengers sit at an angle with just 23 inches of legroom (versus the standard 30 inches) and would allow airlines to increase passenger capacity by up to 40 percent. The seats also have a foldable shelf for carry-on bags and hooks to hang a jacket or purse. Aviointeriors is positioning the SkyRider as a seat for a new ‘basic class’ on three to four hour flights. 

The novel design may draw interest from ultra low-cost carriers such as Ryanair, Spring Airlines (China) and Tiger Airways (Singapore, Australia). Ryanair recently unveiled a concept that would let passengers stand during flights, leaning against a flat padded backboard and restrained with a strap stretching over their shoulder. European regulators said Ryanair’s design would not meet safety rules as current rules determine that each passenger has to be provided with a seat or berth. Aviointeriors, meanwhile, claims the Skyrider is effectively a seat, and says that if a carrier commits to installing the new seats it will apply for proper certification. 

Lighter, stronger materials
Aircraft interior manufacturers have been turning to new high-performance materials that allow them to make their products stronger and safer while making them lighter. For example, Norduyn’s new lightweight composite Quantum trolleys are 40 percent lighter and have 45 percent fewer parts than its aluminium counterparts. The material also provides a high level of insulation, requiring far less dry ice. The company has produced 1,500 units for its partner LSG Sky Chefs. 

Airbus has completely re-thought the galley system in terms of usability and weight reduction. The company’s new SPICE galley makes a major innovative step by putting today’s standard meal-trays into lightweight boxes, instead of trolleys. Foldable service carts are then used to transport the boxes during passenger service (video here). The new design would mean that 8 boxes are needed on an Airbus A330, rather than the 40 to 50 trolleys currently required, which results in weight savings of 550kg for A330s and up to 1,000kg on an A380. Installation of the system would also allow for three more seats on an A330 and 10 or more on an A380. Airbus says it will officially introduce the SPICE system in early 2011 and it may enter airline service 24 to 30 months later. 

Challenging Panasonic and Thales, IFEC newcomer Lumexis says that at an installed weight of 2kg per seat, its  fibre optics-based IFE system is as much as 50 percent lighter than traditional copper-wired IFE solutions. Lumexis’ fibre-to-the-seat system will be integrated in Recaro’s Basic Line 3510 slimline seats for launch customer FlyDubai and installation will begin in November 2010. 

Integration of inflight entertainment and seats
With ‘slim and lightweight’ now considered the accepted rule for economy-class seats, seat and IFEC suppliers are teaming up to develop standardised integrated solutions, which are less complex and result in substantial weight reductions. Panasonic (who has teamed up with seat vendor Weber) says its ‘Integrated Smart Monitor’ is 4lb (1.8kg) lighter than the previous system, and incorporates all controls and USB port into the monitor, eliminating the complexity of in-seat harnesses and additional seat components. According to Thales, with local storage and no seatbox its latest display is in itself an IFEC system. The systems of both vendors clip off easily for quick maintenance and installation. 

Delta will be the first customer to install Panasonic and Weber’s integrated lightweight touchscreen IFEC and slim carbon fibre economy seat to 16 former Northwest B47-400s in mid-2011. According to the airline, the new Panasonic monitor uses 30 percent less energy and is 60 percent lighter than IFE installed on other Delta aircraft, and the seats offer “up to 1.5in more personal space and increased under-seat storage”. Thales, meanwhile, has teamed up with B/E Aerospace (launch customer Qatar Airways) and Recaro, while Sicma is bringing its own ‘seat integrated technology’ to market, with Royal Jordanian as launch customer. 

Related articles:
Southwest’s ‘Green Plane’ to test eco-friendly interior materials
Air New Zealand goes lie-flat in economy class
ANA’s new cabin upgrade raises the bar in all classes

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