Multiple fare classes have been available to passengers on commercial flights since the 1970s. Catering to the needs and wants of various travelers has spurred continual innovation as airlines work to make their offerings most appealing to the marketplace. So what’s next for “wowing” passengers? What about offering them their own personal onboard suites complete with floor-to-ceiling walls, luxurious and adjustable seating, personal lighting and temperature controls, high-tech amenities and a window view — even from the middle of the plane? Although it sounds like a wild dream, this experience is now a reality thanks to a visionary customer and Rockwell Collins’ commitment to making miracles happen.
Known as Full Height Suites, these new Super First Class cabins are open for business on one of Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER commercial jets — with several more aircraft to follow in the coming year. Long known for its focus on providing a first class travel experience, Emirates is now bringing ultra luxury to air travel when many airlines are focusing only on business and economy class. Inspired by the high style and comfort of Mercedes Benz S-class sedans, the new Emirates cabins provide private and spacious rooms at 40,000 feet that continue raising the bar for what’s possible with first class travel.
So what will passengers find in Emirates’ new first class cabins? For starters, the luxurious leather seats feature 10 motors to adjust to the passenger’s desires for comfort and support — including a “zero gravity” function that enables a natural resting position. The game-changing Center Suite Imaging system allows center suite passengers to experience the same views of the world as though seated in a window seat via cameras mounted at different angles with different lens adjustment that provide video of what’s happening outside. For the first time, passengers have nearly complete control over their environment, including the ability to adjust temperature by adding heat and to control the mood of the lighting with a custom light control panel, electric window shades and curtains. Not to mention the high-tech entertainment options, luxurious amenities and the ability to order on-demand food and drink, which is then served through a private hatch — ensuring privacy for the suite’s occupant.
The brainchild of Sir Tim Clark, CEO of the Dubai-based airline, the new suites were nearly five years in the making. Rockwell Collins’ Interior Systems business was charged with leading a multi-company team to deliver a successful solution to Emirates’ need. That team spent several years refining the product design and deliverables with multiple partners before those concepts came to life through close collaboration with the program office at Boeing, regulatory agencies and Emirates’ leadership.
“This program demonstrates the ability of Rockwell Collins’ Interior Systems business to work together and create the most complex and innovative first class cabin to enter the marketplace,” said Werner Lieberherr, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Interior Systems for Rockwell Collins. “Combined efforts from our operations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Miami; Tucson and southern England over several years were required to pull the program together.”
Also key to the program’s success was the ability of the Rockwell Collins group to collaborate with teams outside the company. In fact, Rockwell Collins and Boeing created a Joint Development Team collocated in Everett, Washington, to help ensure ongoing alignment in support of the significant cabin customization required to make the new first class experience on the 777-300ER possible. Boeing also played a key role in helping ensure the new fully enclosed, floor-to-ceiling suite was possible from a certification standpoint. Working closely through them, the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Rockwell Collins was able to deliver a configuration certifiable by both the FAA and EASA, but retrofittable to the final configuration desired by Emirates.
Although there were a host of other contributors involved in making the new suites a reality, of particular note were the efforts of PierreJean Design Studios, which specializes in private and commercial aircraft interior design and in yacht interior and exterior design. A long-time Emirates partner, they played a key role in the project’s industrial design by bringing the brand to life in this new private cabin environment.
While meeting all the technical challenges and multi-country collaboration hurdles, Rockwell Collins needed to listen to its customer and deliver outstanding results.
“This was Sir Tim Clark’s vision for a supreme travel experience and he drove us to deliver an outstanding design solution,” Lieberherr said. “We appreciate that Emirates was open to the ideas and concepts of the respective teams involved.”
From senior leadership at Rockwell Collins down through account executives, project leads, and technicians and engineers, the 40-person core team worked against the odds to deliver the full-height suites — across multiple time zones, amid differing cultures and requiring tireless efforts over a period of several years.
“All of us at Rockwell Collins are incredibly proud that Emirates chose us to bring this concept to life,” Lieberherr said. “By demonstrating our world-class competency in design and solution innovation, we reinforced why our customers around the globe can rely on us and trust us to deliver on our promises.”