Cabin sustainability was a hot topic at this year’s Passenger Experience Conference in Hamburg, which takes place one day before the Aircraft Interiors Expo opens its doors. During the event, executives from Airbus and Boeing joined a panel of other experts to explore what airframers, seatmakers and designers can do to help propel a more sustainable vision for cabin design and manufacturing. Blue sky thinking and small incremental changes were discussed.
Airbus opened its presentation with a snazzy video outlining the airframer’s Airspace 2035 vision. This scheme, explained head of aircraft interiors marketing Anaïs Marzo da Costa, is the fruit of a collaboration between airlines and production partners that provides a strategic overview for what they hope to achieve.
A sci-fi animation showing how a passenger could pre-order their meal before a flight and collect it via a gate-side smart vending machine piqued the audience’s interest most. Imagine the space savings on board if expansive galleys were not needed. But this was just one element of a much more imaginative exploration of using data and tech to apply bionic principles to cabin design to bolster sustainability. Whilst light on details, it did demonstrate a vision for where Airbus wants to go next.
Boeing followed this futuristic presentation with something more tangible for the near-term. Brenna Wynhof, regional director of cabin marketing, outlined Boeing’s recent internal exploration of using recycled carbon fibre trim from its wing production to build interiors such as sidewall panels, sandwich panels, and wall dividers, which have been tested on its ecoDemonstrators in recent years. These new products are lighter, though not as strong as the originals. Interestingly, the initiative was presented as a passion project by select Boeing staff members.
Naturally, these are not the only sustainability initiatives being explored by the two airframers. Not by a long shot. Airbus is embracing and looking to advance decarbonisation, circularity and recycling on a number of fronts, as the European airframer highlighted later in the week at a separate conference session sponsored by The German Aerospace Industries Association (BDLI). And its work to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft and eVTOLs is impressive.
Moreover, for the past decade, Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator programme has taken other promising technologies out of the lab and tested them in an operational environment to solve real-world challenges for airlines, passengers and the environment. Nearly a dozen Boeing aircraft have served as flying test beds for the programme since it began in 2012.
But importantly, in the two rather specific scenarios presented by da Costa and Wynhof at the Passenger Experience Conference, the same overall objective remains: slash weight to improve aviation’s eco-credentials. Boeing is seeking to cut weight but keep strength with recycled carbon fibre, while Airbus’ lunchboxes enable future travellers to pre-select and pick-up a meal, addressing both wastage and onboard weight.
Other speakers on the panel, including Expliseat CEO Amaury Barberot, are of a like mind. In fact, Expliseat’s product line was designed with weight-savings as the primary objective. The company lays claim to offering “the world’s lightest aircraft seat in the economy class sector” with its TiSeat E2 slimline.
There was clear drive from the panelists to get things moving. But challenges remain, including a lack of sustainability data or agreed benchmarking for it. When asked how he collects data on sustainability across his supply chains, Unum Aircraft Seating CEO Chris Brady admitted; “imperfectly.” This, in turn, makes comparisons difficult, especially when methodologies can be finessed to yield different results.
Having said that, Brady went on to argue that there are logical things companies can do to help with sustainability. For instance, in addition to making products lighter, stakeholders can make them simpler to build and disassemble, allowing parts to be reused.
The discussion demonstrated a shared commitment to solving the issue from all who attended. Whilst there is still plenty of work to be done, a representative of British automotive company Lotus Cars may have said it best: simplify, then add lightness.
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Featured image credited to Fintan Horan-Stear