In Conversation Transcribed: Innovation Days with Howard Slutsken

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John Walton: Hello and welcome to Runway Girl Network In Conversation, a deep dive into aviation and the passenger experience. I’m RGN deputy editor John Walton and today I’m in conversation with aviation journalist and storyteller Howard Slutsken. We are both just back from the Airbus Innovation Days briefings in Toulouse. Full disclosure, Airbus brought us there and back and put us up for the event and there’s a lot of interesting news to discuss around the middle of the market. The A321neo XLR, YLR, ZLR and more. The A350 and everything from biomimicry to boundary layer ingestion, but first thanks to our sponsor. In Conversation is brought to you by Boltaron, a SIMONA company, purveyor of high-performance thermoplastics for tomorrow’s aircraft interiors, specializing in an extensive range of film and sheet products tailored to the requirements of the aviation industry. Boltaron is dedicated to providing consistent high quality materials, advanced performance solutions and meeting evolving trends in aircraft interior design. Learn more at Now Howard, welcome to the show. You’re joining us from Hawai’i, is that correct?

Howard Slutsken: Yes it is. I’m actually on the north shore of the beautiful island of Kauai, about a 12 hour time difference from you, I believe.

Walton: Yes, indeed. And I’m glad that we arranged the Hawai’ian songbirds to twitter in the background of this recording.

Slutsken: As long as the the endemic chickens don’t start crowing, it’ll be lovely.

Walton: Endemic chickens. That sounds like a marvelous band name.

Slutsken: I think it is.

Walton: So Howard, would you describe the Innovation Days for those listeners who might not be familiar please?

Slutsken: Well it was interesting because this was my very first Innovation Days, John, I had not been before and I made it onto the radar screens I guess of the folks at Airbus this year and they graciously invited me. It was about 120, 130 international journalists who descended on the Toulouse Airport at about the same time. And we stayed at a very nice hotel nearby and Airbus gave us seminars — or had seminars for us — for a day and a half pretty well as well as making all of their senior executives available for conversations.

Walton: Yeah, it was a really interesting event this time around largely given the amount of turnover at the head of Airbus. I mean you’ve got Guillaume Faury up there now you’ve got Christian Scherer in the sales supremo job, the chief commercial officer. And it was great to to put some names to faces and I imagine for them also to get used, in advance of the Paris Air Show coming up next month, to get used to some of the journalists who cover this industry and the kind of questions that people are interested in asking. I find it really interesting the different questions people were asking at this show.

Slutsken: Yeah. As did I, but I kind of stepped back and had a look around the room and thought that we’ve got a wide range of folks that cover aviation. Everything from the editors or the writers in a newspaper, who might have four or five different beats in transportation, right up to those of us who are very focused on it and that’s the sector that we work in.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. Well I found really interesting was sort of chatting with other journalists around far too much coffee. Talking to people like Hu Tau of Xinhua News in China. She’s their senior aviation correspondent and just sort of understanding more about what the Chinese market is looking for in aviation, you know, the dynamics of that market, both as passengers and as an industry. I found that, you know, not more fascinating than the presentations, but it was just as interesting. I thought.

Slutsken: I completely agree. I had some fabulous conversations on the buses back and forth with folks, a gentleman from India… it’s interesting to see the different perspectives. We are so immersed in it. We sometimes perhaps don’t take the time to step back and see the importance and the perspective that other people have on aviation.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. And also to actually think, well hang on, why do we take this as read? Right? Why is this the accepted wisdom than the industry? That seats should be this size or that aircraft should do that rather than this? You know, really interesting stuff.

Slutsken: I thought that it was quite interesting as the lead-off session, there was a lot of love on the innovation side given to the newly, well not that newly, but the Airbus 220, the Bombardier C Series. You know, what was fascinating to me was that they kind of positioned the idea of buying the program as an innovation.

Walton: Yeah. It certainly is an innovative way to create an aircraft program I suppose.

Slutsken: I suppose!

Walton: There were a couple of members there where it didn’t seem entirely politic to a Canadian audience.

Slutsken: Well as a Canadian aviation journalist and a proud Canadian and as well a Canadian taxpayer, I have to say that Christian Scherer’s comments about the, the little risk that Airbus took to purchase this program kind of rang a little off for me. And given the fact that the Canadian government invested so much in the program, for him not to acknowledge that fact that really not only is his partner Bombardier a part, but those of us that have contributed to the program have been part of this. And I think that they perhaps could, could use a little bit of a tidy up of their messaging.

Walton: Yes. And of course that’s always one of the helpful things about these Innovation Days, coming as they do so closely in advance of the Paris Air Show, right. All the Airbus media people are monitoring the responses that we have and what we talk about in response to the days. And I think that that there will certainly be a slightly different message to discuss at the Le Bourget.

Slutsken: Perhaps. But the good news on on the 220 was that somehow, I guess it must be invisible fuel or something, they’ve managed to squeeze another roughly 450 nautical miles of range out of both models of the C Series.

Walton: It’s been fascinating to me coming from the passenger experience shows both at APEX in Boston last year and then AIX in Hamburg, where Airbus this really firmly on the A220 bandwagon, you know, very quickly given the life of the program and then very swiftly into saying, well look, here’s what we can do with it. Here’s how it’s changing. Here’s what’s better about it now. Also very interesting to see that the the official 12000th Airbus to be delivered was decided to be an A220.

Slutsken: Yeah. And I’m sure you quizzed the Airbus comms folks as I did, because we come into these things with a bit of a healthy dose of skepticism that perhaps, you know, with all the various 320s and 350s and different marks coming out of Hamburg and Mobile and Toulouse that one might think it would have been one of those aircraft that would have been the 12,000.

Walton: Well indeed.

Slutsken: It was interestingly managed. I would guess.

Walton: Yes, yes. Interesting that it managed to indeed be a Delta Air Lines A220. And and that brings us rather neatly to the question about rates, which we got into, and rates and production. A lot of the stuff that we were talking about ended up being around industrialization on day one, so a supply chain and so on. And look, readers of Runway Girl Network will of course be familiar with the extensive issues around the cabin supply chain that in particular Airbus has been encountering — but also Boeing as well — in terms of the seat quality, seat production rates, lavatories and galleys and other monuments not up to spec and so on and so forth. And this is really interesting that Christian Scherer was identifying that as pretty much the number two blocker for increasing the rate of the A320neos, behind the proverbial engine problems. And I thought that was really interesting. I chatted with Philippe Mhun later, who’s the executive VP for programs and services and he says that they’re working on it, but you know they don’t have that sorted yet.

Slutsken: It’s interesting that, because you would have thought that after the experience they had gone through with the A350, that on the the neos and the LRs that they would have that locked but it that the rather remarkable rate they’re running at is still causing an impediment.

Walton: Well indeed and it’s not just that, I think it’s partly the nature of the suppliers, but also the fact that some of these longer range A321s in particular, and obviously that includes the LR, are getting towards wide body levels of build complexity and that is also creating issues for them.

Slutsken: As a seat maven though John, what do you think about the idea of a three class 321LR?

Walton: Well, I think we’ve already got three class 321, four class actually, three and a half. The American Airlines 321T, that seems an entirely reasonable thing to have if you’re going to segment your passengers that way. If you have a long, thin route that’s got a fair amount of premium traffic. Yeah, I see no problem with that.

Slutsken: It makes sense as long as they’re… I suppose that they figured out that they can generate more revenue by slicing up the cabin into the various segments and charging the various premium rates.

Walton: Well exactly and I think premium economy is going to be a big part of that. On the narrow body international side of things. We always say that premium economy is the most profitable per square meter area of the cabin. And as far as we’ve come, there’s not been a lot of narrow body, long haul premium economy out there. You know, I’m thinking of… There are a few, there’s a sort of, the Air Transat sort of Club class thing, you know a sort of old school recliner. There’s a few of that sort of thing.

Slutsken: Yeah I understand. I’m also wondering how they’re going to deal with catering and in flight service and something as simple as enough lavs capacity and freshwater on board a narrow body A321LR or XLR flight for that matter, that could be seven, eight hours at a mach 0.78 or whatever the speed might be.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. How do you move that beyond something like JetBlue’s Mint, right? Which is essentially pretty much the longest premium style narrow body that we see these days. But of course though, the industry does have some experience in this. You know, I remember the happy days of OpenSkies, that British Airways Project Lauren subsidiary that ran 757s between Paris and New York. Some of the food there was truly terrible, which was not what you were expecting out of Paris. I always remember the crepes of despair, I christened them.

Slutsken: Also a good band name, John also.

Walton: Yes, I think so. Some sort of Finnish prog rock group. But no, it is a really interesting question because if you’re selling people premium products, they’re going to expect wide body premium level of service, unless you reset those expectations, of course. And this is going to be something that JetBlue is going to have to do with it’s international Mint. It’s fortunate that it has fairly strong operations already at New York and Boston for when it starts rolling those out. But yes, it’s a really interesting situation in terms of the A321neXLR, and indeed as they were joking this week, the XLR, YLR, ZLR.

Slutsken: Yes, I’d like to buy a letter please.

Walton: Yes, yes indeed. What’s your take on this, Howard? I think one of the big questions that we’re all asking ourselves at the moment is, is Airbus going to make the move at Le Bourget to further expand the A321neo section of this family?

Slutsken: Well when one looks at that, and they’ve stuffed this third fuel tank into the, the LR, the third fuselage fuel tank. Part of me wonders where they have capacity for more fuel or what other enhancements they can do to the aircraft in order to eke out more range. But part of me is also sitting back and thinking, well, do I want to go that far in a narrow body? And will the average passenger care? Will the average passenger plodding along across the North Atlantic at mach 0.78 look out the window and see a Dreamliner or an A350 or a 47 scream by at mach 0.86 and realize that they’re spending, I don’t know, maybe another hour in the air. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens on the passenger experience side of things. Not to mention the operational side, you know, and swinging back for a moment to the 220 with that bump in range. It certainly opens up east coast US and Canada to western Europe routes or city pairs to that aircraft, which could be a benefit to add frequency or create new opportunities, new marketing opportunities for the airlines.

Walton: Indeed, and of course, you know, outside just that you see the, the A220 and of course the Boeing Brasil – Commercial.

Slutsken: Yes, exactly.

Walton: Which are, at time of recording still called the E2 E-Jet formerly of Embraer. You see a lot of the more developing markets in Africa and Asia taking two here, two there to do that long, thin, highly profitable routes. And I think, you know, an extra hour in the sky here and an hour in the sky there and you start really opening up some new options. You know, you’ve got a lot of airlines that were operating, you know, maybe some older 737s or older A320s and now have the opportunity to offer a modern passenger experience, with modern rates of efficiency. And I think that’s really interesting. So, the big question is what does Airbus do at Le Bourget?

Slutsken: Exactly, and you know, I look at them just like some of the car manufacturers, a couple of the major premium European ones like to introduce vehicles to fit every single market segment, every niche. And it’s not unlike what Delta has done with their fleet utilization and purchases. They seem to have a plane for every market, every yield factor, every capacity. Airbus seems to be going down that same path, filling in all the little holes, they appear to be marketing the 321 and the 330 as a perfect pair with mixed fleet flying. So pilots can bounce back and forth between the two aircraft. They’re certainly pushing hard, and given the challenges that our friends in Seattle are facing these days, that NMA may be pushed back further.

Walton: Yeah, I mean, this is one of those really interesting questions now. I mean, as I was writing for RGN, it’s Boeing’s move in the middle of the market right now. Airbus has fairly comprehensively won the narrow body side of things, you know, you see that with the rate of orders for the 321neo versus the larger 737 MAX aircraft. Right. It’s just the aircraft that has that, you know, capability in terms of performance. On the wide body end, so the hard place of this metaphor that Airbus was testing out, the rock and the hard place, the hard body 60 A330 and that is a hard place actually because the market hasn’t gone wild for the A330neo.

Slutsken: I think in large part they’ve been waiting to see what Boeing’s been doing. But when you stand back, I know that Boeing is focusing the NMA on lowering the cost through more efficient manufacturing processes and suppliers. But when you look at what must be a relatively low cost for Airbus to be able to market the 330neo at compared to an all new aircraft, one would think that the longer that Boeing waits, the more interested airlines are going to be in the 330.

Walton: Well indeed and Christian Scherer at Airbus was really signaling that that’s part of their plan. You know, calling it, quote unquote, pricing flexibility.

Slutsken: Yes. I love that. Lovely. Yeah, lovely metaphor.

Walton: And Boeing has obviously been doing that as well. Boeing pulled Hawaiian Airlines’ order right out from underneath the neo, the last year’s Farnborough air show. I think Airbus might well be delighted to do something along those lines this year, for example. I would not be surprised if there are a couple of high profile MAX clients who, not to use military jargon, but you know, defect to the Airbus side of this battle between these two companies. You know, I can see that happening. I can also see a couple of airlines who say actually, if we can get neos at this price, especially if Airbus is able to do something interesting like down rating the engines to reduce the amount that it costs to operate. I can see that there might be some interesting movement there.

Walton: You know, if Airbus can move up in terms of either a physical frame stretch of the 321, a physical frame stretch plus extra legs, a fiscal frame stretch with extra extra legs. You know, playing with the capacity and range levers that it has available at, at this point what is a fairly minimal cost. And indeed something that they could then offer back to all of their existing A320 family members. Because let’s not forget there’s an industrialization point to make here as well, in that Airbus and Boeing will love it when someone comes back and says, actually, I’d like to get the next size up. You know, may I please supersize my order for this, for this A320 into an A321, they love it. It takes up the same amount of production line space but it’s more money because those aircraft are more expensive. So that’s not bad news for them. And I think it’s the same if Airbus, you know, creates what we could call the A322, so a longer A321, or indeed an A321 with extra leg room, extra leg room, extra range. Sorry, clearly I’ve got seating on the brain.

Slutsken: At the top end of the spectrum, there were a number of questions, some very pointed questions from people about a potential A350-2000, an even greater stretch of the top end of Airbus’s range. And although the answer was dodged, I understand that there was a wink given here and there to a couple of journalists.

Walton: Well, yes. I mean, it would surprise me very much if Airbus wasn’t going to create a a double stretch A350. but in the meantime, there seems to be a big push within Airbus to crystalize something that they were sort of talking about four, five years ago, which is changing up the economy class cabin to move from what is the very comfortable nine abreast that pretty much everybody apart from, you know, French leisure carriers, like Air Caraïbes and French Bee have taken as 10 abreast. They’re really moving their rhetoric on this. They say they’re going to do some sidewall sculpting. They can do the usual, you know, razor thin armrests. I am entirely unconvinced that is good passenger experience.

Slutsken: Well, look at what’s happened with every single airline that’s gotten 10 abreast on the triple seven. It’s the same. It’s the same scenario basically isn’t it?

Walton: Well, yeah, except worse because the A350s even narrower. And I wrote a piece for RGN a while back talking about you know, Boeing and Airbus, and their wide bodies are offering airlines a different set of binary choices. Right. Sort of ‘exceedingly comfortable or not entirely the worst thing I’ve ever sat in’ or ‘reasonably comfortable and the absolute pits, you would only choose it if you don’t like your passengers’ sort of thing. And this is that latter option. This is a tight configuration and the A350 is really new. I’m not sure it has that much sidewall to sculpt out.

Slutsken: Well after so many years of Airbus crowing on in their marketing about the seat width and the seat width and the seat width in the A350, for them to suggest that that’s not important anymore. Then I’m not sure.

Walton: Yeah, I don’t necessarily buy that one, I have to say. But apparently there was a mock up somewhere, that we were not shown in advance of La Bourget. I would be very surprised if it came to La Bourget, this mock up. That’s not usually the kind of thing that they include there.

Slutsken: So John, what did you think on day two? I was most impressed with Airbus’s CTO, Grazia Vittadini who may be the hardest working person they’ve got there

Walton: She has a lot of things on her plate.

Slutsken: She does indeed.

Walton: And I think won the informal poll for most engaging presenter, that was a really interesting, almost too much of a pelt through a whole bunch of different things. I’d have loved to stop and ask questions about, you know, boundary layer ingestion, you know, return to rear-engined twin jets. You know, that was fascinating to even touch the science there.

Slutsken: Yeah. And she discussed rather in depth the idea of the practical applications of electrically powered aircraft including ground ops and how do you deal with recharging? And then touched on AI and automation in what may be part of the solution for the shortage of pilots that we’re facing, to look at single pilot operations with smart systems assisting.

Walton: Yeah. I’m not sure this is potentially the time to be talking about single pilot operations, but you know, I think there’s definitely something to be said around increasing levels of assistance, increasing sensibly and with reference to pilots perhaps, increasing the amount of information that pilots are presented with to do their decision making. That’s certainly very interesting. There was also this fabulous biomimicry Albatross ONE concept where I guess the end quarter of the wing basically flaps up and down like the… Are those pinion feathers of a bird? I’m no ornithologist. The end bit of a bird’s wings. That was really fascinating. And that helps it deal with turbulence, with different air currents and all that kind of thing. That was really interesting.

Slutsken: I also thought that, and I hope I get his name right, Airbus’s head of urban air mobility. Eduardo Dominguez Puerta, did I get that right?

Walton: I think so.

Slutsken: I think I got that right. So he was very pragmatic and I really appreciated that approach in looking at what’s going on in the urban air mobility sector, given the hundred plus variants that different innovators and inventors are coming up with, and making the definite distinction between an invention and an innovation. Where an innovation actually becomes something that is marketed. And when he said thinking about answering his own question about whether we’re going to see UAM aircraft common by, oh say the 2030s, you know, 10 years out, he really said, “I don’t know”. And he also acknowledged that there’s going to be a heck of a consolidation or fallout of those systems that work and those that don’t. And Airbus has their City Airbus, which they’ve done a test hop with now. And really I think we’re all looking at this and saying the issue isn’t so much the technology of the vehicle, it’s going to be integrating it into the system, some sort of air traffic control system and making it as safe as current air travel or getting into a car.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously in the last couple of weeks we’ve seen the Lilium aircraft take wing out of Munich, but I think it’s really interesting to see Airbus as this, kind of industrialization partner. And I feel like we’ve talked about industrialization several times at this point, but really look back and say, actually, Yep, okay, we’ve done this project. You know, whether it’s the city Airbus or Vahana. Okay, we’ve done this project, we learned some things, not gonna make it.

Slutsken: And they’re prepared to say, okay, we learn. Move it over to the side. Let’s move forward.

Walton: Yeah. Look, and I think that’s very mature. I don’t think there’s a huge appetite at this point for people jetting around in what are essentially drones at this point. You know, until people are, I think we need a couple more cycles of drone normalization, whether that’s people getting their delivery packages arriving on their doorstep by drone or what, until we actually start getting a familiarization with I guess more… A greater proximity of flying vehicles around our-

Slutsken: Indeed, and one of the flying vehicles that I found fascinating that Airbus is backing and it’s technology for technology’s sake and for the creative impetus of it is the America’s Cup yacht that they’re supporting technology for. And we had a visit from the captain of that program, of the yacht and this amazing monohull that actually flies like a hydrofoil that Airbus is involved within the design of it. It’s just amazing. Just as the Perlan project, the pressurized glider that’s going to hopefully break 90,000 feet this year is also an Airbus backed project where these are things that, whether one stands back and decides for their own analysis if it’s something that is exciting and fascinating, and pushing the bounds of creativity. Or if it’s just technology for technology’s sake and why are they doing it? Whatever the case, it’s still amazing that there is this work being done.

Walton: Well absolutely and I think the America’s Cup thing is partly a fairly large advertising to yacht fans exercise. But also, I mean it reminds us all that that aviation is a matter of fluid dynamics. You know, air is a fluid.

Slutsken: We’re in an ocean of air. As I’m looking out over the ocean, we also are in ocean of air.

Walton: Indeed. And you know, I think that it’ll be fascinating to me in a few years to go back and ask Airbus the question of, okay, what did you learn from, from your involvement with the America’s Cup? That was taken in back to the Airbus family. You know, what’s going to change in the aircraft in five, 10 years down the road as a result of your involvement with what some might think of as a frivolous boat racing experience? And I think that’s some fascinating questions to ask. I mean, you look at the material science in these boats alone, it’s just absolutely fascinating.

Slutsken: Completely, completely. And it was nice that they brought the captain in to speak to that, as I think we saw him in January in Mobile, didn’t we?

Walton: Indeed. Indeed, indeed. And then, from a different perspective, you had things really coming from theoretical into reality. So the Airbus Connected Experience, which is the Internet Of Things within the cabin, popped up after it’s visits to the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg. And I thought it was very interesting to see that as well, as probably the largest thing in the Marketplace, which is the sort of bits of kit you can climb on and hold section of the event. Just to sort of explain some of the interesting technologies around Airbus and so on. And I thought that was really fascinating. That’s the kind of thing that they’re bringing forwards, you know, both the connected experience, which of course is them working initially with Stelia, the sort of Airbus group seat maker with Recaro, largely an economy class specialist, and with gategroup, you know, and it’s a very interesting sort of way to present this to non passenger experience journalists.

Slutsken: I agree. The only caution, as both you and I know, is that sometimes these are technologies looking for an application, and whether they ultimately do end up enhancing the passenger experience still remains to be seen. And as well, they have to be created in such a way to make the flight crew’s work far more efficient rather than adding another layer of technological babysitting.

Walton: Indeed. And of course something that no one in this space is really talking about. There’s a question of user privacy and data security. Airlines are atrocious at this. You know, it feels like a month doesn’t go by until I get an email saying that some airline that has compromised my personal information, or potentially done so or they set up a Twitter account to tell me that they’ve done so. You know, this does not give one a huge amount of reassurance that airlines are going to be on top of this. And they do hold an awful lot of personal and potentially sensitive information about us. Whether that’s meal preferences that have religious basis, or passport details, or eventually in flight entertainment.

Walton: You know, if I am traveling for example, to a country that takes a dim view of LGBT people, and somehow they can figure out that I have watched five LGBT related films on airline such and such, that starts to be a a real problem for people’s real lives. You know, if you have a CEO for example, who is traveling and someone can do a little bit of industrial espionage and figure out, well the CEO didn’t sleep very well and we know that because the sensors in the seat won’t activate in the right way and oh, we can tell that they ordered a five drinks on that one flight. Oh gosh, they’ll probably arrive and they’re a bit exhausted. So now we’ll take advantage of that. You know, that’s…

Slutsken: Yeah. Not unlike the flight tracking software that’s out there when those in the business world, the corporate world, track their competitors’ movements in their corporate aircraft.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And no one really had good answers for me on that one. I spoke with Airbus’s Didier Nasarre just before the Innovation Days and, and yet it doesn’t seem to me like there’s a set of ISO standards or anything like the SAE standards that are being worked on for seats. Nothing coming out of IATA, I’m not aware of anything coming out of APEX. So you Howard?

Slutsken: There is a focus on security overall, and I know that it’s been a discussion point at APEX Tech quite regularly, passenger privacy, security of the information. It really is a bit of a Pandora’s box and as we’re moving further and further into biometrics, those protections have to be there in one way or another in order to protect people’s personal information.

Walton: Yeah, and I think there’s a little bit too much of, oh well it’s the airlines’ to deal with. And actually, I’m not entirely sure if I buy that. I think that those who are designing these systems—

Slutsken: I think it’s everybody up and down in the system, to be honest with you, right from the second you check in, for those that might use some sort of biometric recognition to pay for their airfare on their phone, through to checking in and using iris scanners or who knows what other kinds, face recognition, facial recognition. There are so many technologies that are coming on board to streamline the process, which is, as we both I’m sure would agree, it makes it a whole lot easier to be able to walk fairly seamlessly and without… Frictionless, that’s the word I was looking for. A frictionless experience where you come into the airport and you basically walk right through to your gate. Ultimately that could happen, but at what cost?

Walton: Right, exactly. And I think public opinion is gradually seeing what this sort of automation and indeed technology can do. And partly that’s because you know, you have facial recognition built into every new iPhone now. Partly it’s because you have the rise of electronic biometric immigration gates, you know, the French have got those in a number of airports now under the Parafe system. The UK has got that, although I was an early guinea pig of the UK’s iris system years and years ago, which was frankly just as good as what they’ve got now, except it wasn’t rolled out quite as much. And actually my trip to Innovation Days was via London and Helsinki and London again. And it was all, you know, a bit of a marathon. But I was so interested in the number of times like, oh thank god there’s automated gates and I don’t have to wait to see a person.

Walton: And now the parts of the passenger experience where I do have to wait and see a person like security, like bag drop, and I think, oh well it’s a bit of a faff isn’t it? You know, especially automated bag drop. You know, and the regular listeners will now I’m a big fan of the way that Japan designs passenger experience, whether it’s train or plane or bus or whatever, but the Japanese were really early on with the automated bag drop. And there are times when I would pay cash money to be able to not wait in that queue for bag drop, and just roll my bag up, put it in the little thing and tag it myself and off I go. You know those are some times that you think actually I could easily save this five, 10 minute wait in a queue and just do this myself.

Slutsken: Yes, yes. Just like self serve gas.

Walton: Indeed. So to round us out. What was the most interesting innovation that you saw at the Airbus Innovation Days?

Slutsken: I quite like the work that one of Airbus’, I believe he’s an engineer, did repurposing some of the aircraft components into quite remarkable furniture and other items. There were a number of items on display there, and I believe they also have a website and maybe John you can dig that up later. You know I picked up a catalog that’s not with me here in Hawai’i, but sitting on my desk at home and they showed some beautiful tables and things like using a window frame off of an A320 that was being parted out as a mirror frame. And other items like that. It just really caught my eye. Now from the passenger experience side, I mean there’s any number of things on the connectivity area that may prove to be of some use, like smart galleys and smart galley cards to follow inventory control in a more efficient way.

Slutsken: At least that’s what’s what’s being said. Although one one might stand back and wonder whether an efficient barcode system will do the same thing without having to have a smart card eating up some level of bandwidth. The other thing that that I thought was a fun thing to see was the LED lights indicating where there is room in the overhead compartment. Given the fact that everybody brings their entire closets on board these days. It’s always nice to know where there is space, but it might also end up being frustrating. So green for empty, orange for a little bit of space, and red, don’t open this —

Walton: Items may have shifted during flight, yes. Yeah absolutely, I think that that’s something that we’ve seen at the passenger experience shows a bit by this point, you know, three or four shows at this point, but it’s again, it’s really interesting to see that this is starting to hit the, mainstream of the So-and-so City Times and the So-and-so National Post level of aviation communications, and I think that’s…

Slutsken: And I guess wrapping it up John, that’s exactly why Airbus invited 120 or 130 aviation writers from around the world to come to this, because they know that it isn’t just those of us who are deeply focused on the sector, but those who are writing generally for general audiences that can get their messaging out.

Walton: Yeah, absolutely. So that’s it for today’s conversation. We certainly hope you enjoyed it listeners, and we are always keen to find out what you think including about our new transcriptions available at Please do feel free to email me and let me know what you think at with any suggestions. Now, thank you to our guest, Howard Slutsken. How can folks continue the conversation with you online?

Slutsken: Best way is send me a DM on Twitter. I’m at @HowardSlutsken, or you can visit my website, which is that’s W-I-N-G-B-O-R-N, and there’s a Contact Me page on that as well, as well as my story archive of all of my various pieces that I’ve written for a whole bunch of different outlets over the years.

Slutsken: And John, it’s been a pleasure. Lots of fun. Even though we’re 12 hours apart, it feels like you’re just sitting next to-

Walton: 12 hours and several flights of an A321XLR, I feel.

Slutsken: Definitely.

Walton: As ever listeners, You can find me on Twitter @thatjohn, and everything from RGN on Twitter, @RunwayGirl, and of course at If you’re enjoying these conversations, please leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts, and thanks for listening.

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