Airbus’ new cabin experience “Airspace by Airbus” is an effective transferring of the best features of the A350 to a new aircraft model, without complicating the space.
The cabin, which will debut on the manufacturer’s A330neo aircraft in 2017, focuses on the same passenger wellbeing features as introduced in the A350: more open spaces, more bin room for luggage, better environmental controls and improved decorative lighting.
There is even an enhanced aircraft antibacterial lavatory which can easily compete with Boeing’s recently introduced product concept.
But, at its heart, what we see in the Airspace is confirmation of a general trend towards cabins going forward rather than any radical design shift. That’s not a bad thing.
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Airbus has carefully considered the market conditions for its product, taking into consideration passenger feedback, airline needs, and the important need of aircraft lessors, which Airbus confirms represent a significant 48% of its customers.
This critical balance of lessors financing aircraft will influence design of all cabins going forward.
We’ve talked about the sometimes dull qualities of a catalogue approach, but such an approach is imperative to ensure timely deliveries, easy maintenance, and aftermarket value of the aircraft.
While lessors may accommodate some branding customisation, they want to avoid major structural impact or one-off product choices.
Airbus has said it is allowing BFE (Buyer-Furnished Equipment) seating as an option for the A330neo, but it has prepared the Airspace package as an easy-to-adopt catalogue model.
And the manufacturer has done this smartly. Airspace by Airbus is inherently attractive, and can use light to paint decor on neutral surfaces eliminating the need for some custom trim and finishes.
Lighting as a decorative feature is a trend that is here to stay and will only get better over time. Airspace by Airbus recognises the value of light and makes the most of it with a nearly infinite palette of colours achievable with programmable LED lighting.
All Tomorrow’s Cabins
“These [cabins] will inspire and empower airlines to build the next generation of personalised flying experience for their passengers, while and at the same time optimising the economic performance of their aircraft space.”—Dr. Kiran Rao, Airbus’ Executive Vice President of Strategy and Marketing.
Every passenger experience element on the Airspace by Airbus cabin falls in line with modern Airbus standards as established by the A350: In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) boxes which don’t take up any leg space, high-capacity pivoting bins which can fit luggage without being intrusive, optimised cabin layout with galleys, lavatories, and other structures designed to leave better room for seats when increasing density, environmental controls, even an attractive onboard welcome space. It all works well.
Making sure there’s something onboard to keep the various stakeholders happy (passengers, airlines, lessors, manufacturers) requires adoption of elements which are pleasing, but not too radical or dramatic.
As a result, wild fantastical concepts of the flying experience of the future are balanced by more practical applications which can actually be delivered, on budget and on time.
Through small measured steps—not giant leaps—we make sensible progress and keep improving the in-flight experience. That’s the whole point, after all.
Familiarity Breeds Contentment
Without getting into genesis arguments, we can say that the same design principles drive Boeing’s Dreamliner cabin and Boeing’s proposed 777X cabin.
Each manufacturer will argue the relative strength and uniqueness of their own approach. Each will have good points to make. But both approaches share common elements.
Airbus did point out that the Airspace cabin has a distinctive European design language and that is clear, which makes the competition between the two manufacturers more exciting.
Which design school will wins the most hearts?
Better is Better
We didn’t see anything unexpected in the Airspace by Airbus cabin, but we did see something markedly better than the flying experience of older model aircraft coming off the line. It’s certainly better than today’s most common flying experience.
When compared to aircraft cabins 20 years ago, Airspace is an absolute revolution.
The point is that change takes time in aviation, but when it takes hold it takes off.
If the Airspace cabin concept is the way forward—and it is—then we’re glad to jump onboard and let it fly us the full distance, at least until the next step forward comes along.