Thomson turns to cabin lighting specialist to transform 737s, 757s

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MANCHESTER: UK holiday carrier Thomson Airways is among a growing body of airlines transforming the interior of their older jets by replacing legacy fluorescent cabin lighting systems with new LED lighting solutions.

The carrier selected UK-based STG Aerospace’s so-called liTeMood blue/white system for nine Boeing 737NGs and 14 757s. Dutch charter operator Arkefly signed for the same plug-and-play programmable product on its 737-800s last year.

STG Aerospace’s arrangement with Thomson is especially significant “because it deals with two [aircraft] platforms simultaneously and we’re planning our future on that ethos”, company CEO Nigel Duncan tells RGN. “We’re trying to produce a very simple drop-in technology that has as much cross-platform functionality as possible.

“Occasionally we run into a different connector or mounting [on aircraft], but so far we’ve been able to replicate the operating circumstances for about four incumbent systems and replace them with one LED lighting technology that doesn’t require any aircraft-side modification, other than connector changes. We’ve replaced the overhead and downwash lights using essentially the same electronic technology and circuits across all four variants.”

A unique component of both the Arkefly and Thomson installations is a patented onboard infrared programming feature that allows STG Aerospace to change the lighting profile without aircraft-side reprogramming or new software. “We’re not expecting the airlines to do that; we’d provide that service for them, but it’s a simple, non-invasive reprogramming technique,” says Duncan.

This feature has obvious applications for cabin refreshes and rebranding, but Duncan cites other benefits: “UV entering the cabin ages panels over time and although there’s not much you can do to stop the effect, there is the potential for illuminating the cabin in a way that minimizes the appearance of that aging. We’re interested in helping airlines extend the longevity of their cabins, as well as making journeys more pleasant for passengers.”

Referencing the Bubb 2008 ‘Discomfort Pyramid’, Duncan notes that after smell, light is the most important factor affecting passenger comfort, ahead of noise, vibration, climate and anthropometry (measurements of the human body). The liTeMood system therefore influences a key decider in the passenger experience, with low investment, and very limited disruption to aircraft structure, he says. Furthermore, compared to fluorescent lighting, it boasts energy and weight saving benefits, reducing energy consumption by up to 70% and weight by 30kg on a 737NG and 40kg on a 757.

Once STG has supervised an initial on-site installation, the system can be fitted overnight by airline engineering staff. “STG is perhaps uniquely qualified, through its photoluminescent experience, to guide an airline on the correct way to install LED light. There’s a direct interrelationship between the LEDs and charging the photoluminescence on the floor,” reports Duncan.

Although he declines to give details, he says he’s seen instances where other LED lighting solutions have been installed without considering the lux levels required for photoluminescence charging, which is a regulatory pre-flight requirement. The result has been despatch issues that resulted in changes to operating procedures.

In the longer term, STG aims to create a small range of standard solutions across the majority of aircraft types, notwithstanding small in-service variations between airframes. Right now liTeMood is 737NG certified, and certification for the 757 will follow. “Downstream it’s looking very positive for the 767 and other widebody retrofits,” says Duncan. “And we’ll be looking at the A320 later in the year. We expect several liTeMood announcements in coming months.”

The company faces competition from B/E Aerospace, B/E’s new Emteq unit, Diehl Aerospace, Schott AG of Germany and other cabin lighting specialists. Panasonic Avionics recently signaled its intent to enter the market. And Boeing is now offering the Boeing Sky Interior – and aspects of BSI, like the LED lighting feature  – for retrofit on older 737NGs.

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