We all know that in first class and business class you can create beautiful spaces. But most passengers make their way to the back of the airplane and that’s where the squeeze is on.
The new Airspace by Airbus cabin concept was released this week and, for once, an aircraft interior launch appeared to be focused squarely on the 3 billion travelers who board a flight each year in the back of the plane. That’s not to say premium cabins were ignored – they were not – but multiple Airbus executives took the stage in London or sat with media throughout the event and they were all actually excited about the economy class cabin, shifting the conversation in that direction rather than trying to avoid such discussions. Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus’ VP marketing summed up the feeling well early in the day, explaining that Airbus wants “to create an awareness and desire for passengers to fly more comfortable”. And he was quite clear: This is not just about big spenders in the lie-flat beds.
Have we finally found a product truly designed around the volume of passengers more than just the theory of luxury which can be delivered up front?
Arguably most important is that Airbus is sticking to its 18″ seat width for 8-abreast coach, with a good portion of the presentation spent talking about both the actual and perceived benefits the “extra inch” brings to each passenger. Comfort and Ambiance are two of the four design pillars the Airspace cabin is driven by and both benefit from that extra width. But seat width is not the only area where Airbus is focused. The company is quick to point out that the new Airspace layout takes advantage of the nextgen v4 entertainment systems design which dramatically reduces the impact of the seat box on legroom. Again, just an inch here or there under the seat but that makes a big difference, especially for taller passengers already feeling the squeeze.
That does not mean, however, that everything about the economy cabin is going to be more spacious. Airbus still plans to add an extra row or so of seats with a comparable comfort level to the prior iteration of the cabin. This comes through use of the Space-Flex galley/lav design and other, small tweaks which add up throughout the cabin to eke out the inches necessary for the extra seats. Wuggetzer described some of these tweaks, saying, “We have a new location for the crew rest. We [have] done smart lifts in a way that the interior space is the same but due to how we do the piping and electricity the outer dimension gets smaller. By combining those smart monuments you collect inch-by-inch, then you get a row. It is not one element; it is a set of elements with different needs from different airlines based on their needs and segmentation.”
Of course, all of this optimism could come crashing down in a hurry if airlines decide to push the density issue to 9-abreast. And, just like on the A380 and the A350 and the A330ceo, Airbus executives acknowledged that the company would facilitate that decision if an airline customer chose it. The 9-abreast option remains alive in the A330neo fuselage, sacrificing seat width below the 18″ comfort standard the company is pushing. That would be a shame from a customer perspective but it would be naïve to believe it will not happen at some point.
So, does the coach experience in the new A330neo cabin have a chance to be great? Based on what Airbus is showing off so far the answer is a resounding yes. And probably even worth dealing with the smaller lavs and the logo etched on the windows to get there.