AIX 2015 » Density and distraction drive new aircraft interiors trends

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By Marisa Garcia, Flight Chic

Rapidly evolving alternatives to traditional inflight entertainment systems, smarter seat designs and a redefined premium cabin were top themes at this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo 2015 in Hamburg, the aircraft cabin show of shows.

Airlines are eager to make the most of potential revenue space on their planes, while air travelers dread crowded cabins. To resolve this tension, airlines need to draw attention away from the pain of the cabin crunch—especially in Economy.

Technology now takes centre stage in Hamburg as inflight connectivity and entertainment offer passengers productivity, emotional comfort, or at least distraction. This technology is a major capital investment, but vendors are introducing solutions which make these IFE technologies more affordable—even a potential source of revenue and a way to optimize operations.

Connectivity
As airlines step-up the rollout of in-flight connectivity, Panasonic Avionics Corporation celebrated the 700th installation of its eXConnect in-flight Wi-Fi system at the show. The company provides a suite of options which combine in-seat entertainment with global coverage of Ku-band satellite broadband Wi-Fi and 3G services for internet, text and telephony through AeroMobile.

Panasonic also announced that Asia’s largest airline, China Southern, chose its hybrid eXO IFE solution for its narrowbody fleet of A320s and A321s. The eXO system lets airlines mix and match Full HD overhead video and in-seat audio, seat-back Audio-Video On Demand (AVOD), and wireless streaming to passenger devices. This flexibility lets airlines configure entertainment on the aircraft by sections, to suit their product strategy. It lowers costs, reduces weight, and allows easy upgrades when airlines chose to update cabins.

Wireless in-flight entertainment (wIFE) has proven successful where installing embedded in-flight entertainment is impractical. It can also complement existing embedded IFE systems.

Gate-to-gate usage of in-seat tablets
Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect solution offers a rich user interface for entertainment and connectivity directly streamed to passengers’ personal electronic devices. The company has developed an in-seat product which fits consumer tablets on a frame added to the seat-back.

This is a simpler installation than traditional embedded IFE and lets airlines keep up with the latest-generation consumer electronics. Lufthansa Systems in-seat system will also offer early window entertainment content, making BoardConnect more attractive to airlines and passengers alike.

Meanwhile, Lufthansa Technik passed critical head impact criteria testing on its integrated tablet holders for the ZIM Flugsitz Business Class seat. This allows Qantas to offer passengers gate-to-gate entertainment, pre-loaded on iPads, aboard its regional fleet of Boeing 717s.

Hybrid wireless IFE
Alaska Airlines will deploy 7,000 Windows-based 8-inch Toshiba Encore 2 tablets on its flights. SkyCast Solutions in collaboration with Microsoft developed the new hybrid portable in-flight entertainment devices, dubbed TrayVu8, which are pre-loaded with early window content and can also connect to in-flight Wi-Fi.

A similar hand-held device solution, The BlueBox IFE system, offers iPads pre-loaded with popular television programs and early window feature films, complemented by wIFE streaming for passengers who bring their own devices onboard.

Connectivity suppliers like Gogo, Global Eagle Entertainment, OnAir and ViaSat offer a combination of content services, including on-demand entertainment and live TV. This content is most often streamed on passenger devices, but some offer the service on embedded IFE.

Destination content
To off-set the high costs of this tech, airlines can cash-in on the opportunities for ancillary sales. We’ve seen inflight food and beverages ordered on seat-back screens before, but destination marketing, tickets to events and popular tourism venues, hotel bookings and car rentals are now also on offer.

For example, PXCOM from France, has partnered with Lufthansa’s BoardConnect wIFE solution to supply multimedia travel guides which let passengers book tickets for theme parks, buy museum passes, or arrange ground transport en-route with a few of quick taps of the screen.

Connected aircraft
Panasonic, Thales, OnAir, Gogo, and GEE are now pushing the business case in favor of Wi-Fi connections, broadening the scope from Internet access for passengers to enhanced operations. The new ‘Connected Aircraft’—Wi-Fi equipped planes—can keep crew in touch with headquarters at all times, help payment processors validate transactions, transmit cost-saving maintenance data, and provide critical flight tracking—further justifying the costs of antenna installation.

All this technology has crossed over to the show’s other big stars: the seats.

Smart seat
This year featured an Economy seat smart enough to build a bridge between entertainment needs and passenger comfort, backed by high-tech design. Borne of a collaboration between B/E Aerospace, Formation Design Group, TEAGUE and Panasonic, the JAZZ Economy Class smart seat frames tech in a user-friendly space. With a large seat-back HD screen, inductive charging of personal electronic devices, personal reading light with mood lighting options and stands to store our precious electronic companions, the JAZZ looks good, keeps trim and provides plenty of comfort.

Panasonic also collaborated with German seat manufacturer RECARO on a CL3710 seat which includes a number of tech-friendly features.

Max abreast
Slim is still in, but it’s broader. Both Airbus and Boeing introduced wider slim seats on their A320 and 737 aircraft. These products got mixed reviews from some industry watchers though, with much of the skepticism focusing on the narrower armrest installed on Southwest’s new 737 seat.

Airbus optimised the Economy seating on its A380s extending the cabin from ten-abreast to eleven-abreast while giving every passenger an 18” seat width.

Cramped Economy passengers might take comfort that the squeeze has reached the front of the plane as well.

BusinessFirst
The FUSIO, introduced by Zodiac Aerospace at this year’s show, is a new Business class-First class blend. Its shallow cabin footprint lets airlines fit in more seats, but its high-tech design gives passengers the VIP treatment. This product is a response to B/E Aerospace’s successful APEX suite, which uses a staggered design to increase cabin density and gives passengers plenty of room with direct aisle access.

We expect to see more tech cross-over influencing cabin design in future as the costly real-estate of cabin space is turned to profit.

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