Comfort and connectivity

The Loft is a new cabin feature on Virgin Atlantic Airbus A350-1000s.
AIM Altitude

AIRCRAFT INTERIORS is one of the most active parts of the aerospace industry on the commercial side, as airlines attempt to boost the ancillary revenues they earn and improve the flying experience for passengers.

A large ecosystem of interiors specialists provides a multitude of products for passenger services and in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) to satisfy airlines’ desire to enhance comfort and connectivity for passengers and create new revenue opportunities. There is continuous evolution in the segment, as shown by announcements in recent weeks.

Virgin Atlantic has unveiled the cabin design for its 12 Airbus A350-1000s, the first of which, G-VLUX (msn 274, named ‘Red Velvet’), will enter service in late summer.

The cabin’s stand-out feature is an entirely new Upper Class (first class) section, which includes an area called The Loft, described by the airline as a “social space” for flyers to gather and chat.

The Loft has been created by AIM Altitude, a UK-based cabin interiors specialist. Ryan Buckmaster, Programme Manager for AIM Altitude, said: “Having become known for their vibrant onboard bars, [Virgin Atlantic] wanted to expand the feature into a bespoke lounge environment, to enhance the social aspect of the flight and include unique exotic materials to bring the wow factor when boarding.”

The Loft’s design features a centre section of cabin monuments with an independent ceiling attached to the monuments themselves, rather than the aircraft structure. This has enabled designers to separate the cabin into two separate zones, a bar and a lounge, and create a space where passengers can sit together at a table face to face.

AIM Altitude explained new materials and finishes have been used, including multi-paint systems, multiple custom-made Isovolta laminates, hard black anodised bar surfaces, black nickel and gold plating. There is also a window made from a feature pattern interlayered between transparent materials that enables passengers to see the silhouettes of activity in the social area.

Virgin’s A350-1000 cabin design was revealed shortly after this year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX), the annual trade show in Hamburg showcasing what’s new in interiors.

During that event, AIM Altitude presented another striking openplan cabin design concept called ULTRAFLEX. According to the company, the move towards non-stop, ultra-long-haul flights (typified by Qantas’ service between Heathrow and Perth, which lasts 18 hours or more), “will drive a change into the configuration of the cabin, because we need increased focus on passenger mobility and increased focus on wellbeing”.

Like the Virgin A350-1000 cabin, ULTRAFLEX comprises what AIM Altitude calls “multi-versatile booths” separating the cabin into zones where passengers can relax or socialise. An artist’s impression even shows passengers dining in what the company calls a “café-style environment”.

ULTRAFLEX and Virgin’s A350-1000 cabin is evidence of a more general trend in the interiors industry towards rethinking the traditional cabin layout to improve comfort.

For example, during AIX, Williams Advanced Engineering and JPA Design announced a partnership to work on what they called “new Formula One-inspired” interiors, although exactly what this means is as yet unclear.

As well as comfort, connectivity is also a big issue. During AIX, Airbus showcased its ‘Connected Experience’, which it describes as, “a cabin which seamlessly connects cabin elements to provide a personalised passenger experience”.

This Internet of Things-based platform, offered in cooperation with gategroup, Stelia Aerospace and Recaro Aircraft Seating among other suppliers, is designed to integrate data seamlessly to provide individually tailored in-flight service for flyers and operational insights for operators.

Airbus said: “The platform will link in real time interconnected core cabin components, including the galleys, meal trolleys, seats, overhead bins and other cabin elements.”

The platform will generate a dedicated prediction of preferred food and drink for passengers based on their individual preferences, making it possible for flyers to pre-order and undertake remote ordering from their seats via personal devices, as well as receive customised content on their seatback IFEC screens.

The Connected Cabin is intended to give cabin crews access to an integrated platform that keeps preflight and real-time data in one place. As well as allowing data exchange, information will be uploaded to Airbus’ Skywise cloud for subsequent trend analytics.

Airbus says airlines will be able to use the aggregated data for predictive maintenance on their entire fleet to improve cabin service reliability.

The Connected Cabin, designed to be both a line-fit and retrofit option, will be available on the company’s A320 Family variants first before extending to other Airbus programmes. Mark Broadbent