The buzz around Embraer’s E-Jet E2 family of updated regional jets couldn’t be hotter. From the promises of ATR-like costs to the stunning new cabin created in partnership with London designers Priestmangoode, the E2’s #PaxEx credentials are already being demonstrated.
One of the most frequently commented upon aspects of the new E-Jet E2 cabin is the integrated seat-back tablet holder. It’s new ground for Embraer, whose existing E-Jet family dominates its market segment, but which hasn’t previously branched away from embedded seat-back entertainment (and no-IFE cabins).
Yet despite extensive design work — much of which is impressive, like splitting the passenger service unit into individual sections to maximise overhead bin space, or translating the trend in staggered premium cabin seating to the E-Jet cross section — Embraer and its design partner Priestmangoode are keeping their HIC cards close to their collective chests when it comes to the tablet mount. Head injury criterion – HIC – is the measure of the likelihood of head injury arising from impact; it is one of the most difficult parts of the certification process for integrated IFE/seats.
Responding to detailed questions from RGN, an Embraer spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the airframer and the design house, said, “Many items in the cabin interior including the HIC are in the early phases of conceptualization, as such, there is nothing much they can comment on at this stage.”
When asked whether the tablet mount is intended for airline-supplied tablets (a relatively easier task) or for personal devices (a more diverse group and thus harder to design for), the spokesperson said, “That will be up to the airline. Some airlines will offer onboard portable IFE (like Qantas do on short-haul flights) but it is being developed for both scenarios.”
Qantas offers passengers aboard a subset of its Boeing 717 fleet (and previously its refurbished 767s) an iPad that can be affixed to the seat-back strap in front of them, and offers its Q streaming wireless entertainment via the devices.
When queried on the size of tablet intended to be supported by Embraer’s mount for the E2 cabin, the spokesperson said: “The design has moved on since the original concept and we are developing the holder to support up to a 12″ tablet.”
The tablet holder “will be a universal stand and the seat will have the option of a power supply for users”, the spokesperson confirmed, but declined to comment further on the type of power supply or plans for interoperability between tablet manufacturers.
The challenge of meeting HIC will increase in the event that safety regulators take up the challenge of expanding HIC requirements to adequately reflect the full range of passengers — in other words, from anyone who is not the 50th percentile height and mass of a notional historical US male of 170 lbs (77.11 kg) and 5’10” (177.8cm) in height. (See US 14 CFR 23.562 [PDF].) Lateral force impacts are also likely to be considered following the report into the crash of Asiana 714 at San Francisco (NTSB Report [PDF]).
Those challenges are evident at trade shows like the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg or the APEX Expo, with embedded or semi-embedded tablets causing HIC certification issues that seem to be solvable only by placing the tablet in the seat pocket or behind a screen of safety plastic (think a mostly transparent aircraft window blind).
The spokesperson for Embraer and Priestmangoode declined to comment on the authorities and standards to which the companies were working for the E2 tablet mount, about whether embedded linefit IFE was being considered, whether the mount would also work for phablets, gate-to-gate use, and other questions from RGN.
It’s particularly surprising that there aren’t more answers from Priestmangoode, which has been designing aircraft interiors across airframers and seat-makers for decades now.
With numerous industry players trying to find a workable — let alone elegant — solution to HIC for tablets, and concern throughout the industry about whether the current criteria are adequate, does designing for HIC need to be further up the priority list?