The fu­ture of jet cab­ins

Say good­bye to bor­ing cor­po­rate in­te­ri­ors and hello to cab­ins fit­ted with vir­tual re­al­ity dis­plays, artis­tic de­signs, cus­tomised pods and enor­mous win­dows.

The Peak (Hong Kong) - - Lifestyle - STORY JAMES WYNBRANDT

What ex­actly will busi­ness aviation’s cabin of the fu­ture look like? Cer­tainly, it will com­bine state-ofthe-art tech­nol­ogy with un­ri­valled com­fort. In part, that’s be­cause the next gen­er­a­tion of busi­ness air­craft, from ex­ec­u­tive busi­ness lin­ers to sleek su­per­sonic jets and mas­sive lighter-than-air ships, are al­ready on the draw­ing board. But it’s also due to a raft of new ideas emerg­ing from the many start-ups and aviation in­dus­try ac­cel­er­a­tors, many of whose con­cepts are be­ing shown for the first time.

Com­lux, whose port­fo­lio of high-end air­craft ser­vices in­cludes VIP cabin in­stal­la­tions, re­cently teamed with four lead­ing ex­ec­u­tive air­liner in­te­rior de­sign­ers to de­velop cabin con­cepts for the forth­com­ing Air­bus Acj320­neo and Boe­ing’s BBJ Max 8 nar­row-body bi­z­lin­ers. The ob­jec­tive: “To cap­ture the dif­fer­ent cul­tures, styles and tastes of po­ten­tial VIP cus­tomers,” says Scott Meyer, CEO of Com­lux Amer­ica, the Swiss com­pany’s US com­ple­tion fa­cil­ity. The de­signs hint at where cabin styling is

headed. As seen by Al­bert Pinto De­sign, An­drew Winch De­sign, De­sign Q and Unique Air­craft, the cabin of the fu­ture is just as likely to in­clude sleek, ex­pan­sive lounges with dou­ble-wide di­vans and cos­set­ting pod-seats, as a stately, tra­di­tional din­ing room ren­dered in neu­tral earth tones.

Ac­com­mo­dat­ing a spec­trum of cul­tural in­flu­ences is crit­i­cal for the cabin’s evo­lu­tion – and busi­ness aviation’s for­tunes – given that to­mor­row’s busi­ness jet cus­tomer is as likely to be Asian as American. Haeco Pri­vate Jet So­lu­tions (HPJS) of Xi­a­men, China, re­cently in­tro­duced a se­ries of cabin de­sign con­cepts themed “Zen” and “Aus­pi­cious Clouds” that in­cor­po­rate feng shui in­flu­ences “based on the re­spected phi­los­o­phy of an­cient Chi­nese philoso­phers,” says Henry Chan, HPJS’S vice pres­i­dent, commercial. The cab­ins fea­ture sea­sonal colours and blos­som mo­tifs, curv­ing lines, and ar­eas like a med­i­ta­tion room.

Do Asian cus­tomers re­ally want to go this retro on the cabin of the fu­ture? “I don’t know 100 per cent of what my wife wants, let alone a bil­lion­aire,” Chan ad­mits. But like the Com­lux con­cepts, HPJS’S imag­ined in­te­ri­ors are meant to start a con­ver­sa­tion, rather than pro­vide de­fin­i­tive an­swers.

If you’re seek­ing a more con­clu­sive di­rec­tion for fu­ture de­sign, look out the win­dow. Ex­pan­sive views seem a likely fea­ture in to­mor­row’s cab­ins. Fokker Ser­vices and GKN Aerospace are de­vel­op­ing the Skyview panoramic win­dow, mea­sur­ing al­most five feet across and more than a foot-and-a-half tall, which could be avail­able on Boe­ing Busi­ness Jets next year. Mean­while Brazil’s Embraer has stood the panoramic win­dow con­cept on its end – lit­er­ally - propos­ing for its new flag­ship Lin­eage 1000E win­dows of con­ven­tional width but al­most four feet tall, and ca­pa­ble of be­ing paired with a stan­dard sized win­dow above or be­low for a cathe­dral-like ef­fect. Jay Beever, Embraer’s vice pres­i­dent, in­te­rior de­sign, de­vel­oped the con­cept for a Ja­panese client who wanted to sit on the floor and dine at a sushi ta­ble while still en­joy­ing the out­side view.

Then again, win­dows may be su­per­flu­ous in to­mor­row’s busi­ness air­craft. Green­point Tech­nolo­gies, which de­signs and in­stalls VIP in­te­ri­ors on BBJS, is work­ing with Spike Aerospace, de­vel­oper of the 18-pas­sen­ger Spike S-512 Quiet Su­per­sonic Jet, on the jet’s Mul­ti­plex Dig­i­tal Cabin. In place of win­dows the S-512 will have panoramic dig­i­tal dis­plays run­ning along walls, pro­ject­ing views from ex­ter­nal cam­eras, the lat­est movie, a busi­ness pre­sen­ta­tion, or any other dis­play pas­sen­gers choose.

But win­dow­less or not, if the shared econ­omy takes hold – rep­re­sented in busi­ness aviation by mem­ber­ship-based providers like Vis­ta­jet and Wheels Up, whose fleet ac­cess pro­grams ob­vi­ate the need to own an air­craft – in­te­ri­ors of the fu­ture will have to be more flex­i­ble to meet the needs of a greater va­ri­ety of users.

Air­bus’s Sil­i­con Val­ley-based busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor, A3 (pro­nounced “A-cubed”), last year un­veiled Trans­pose, a “clean-sheet re­think­ing” of cabin ar­chi­tec­ture and the pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence. Us­ing the con­cept

of mod­u­lar cargo pods de­ployed by air­lines to­day, Trans­pose cab­ins could be quickly re­con­fig­ured, with pods for sleep­ing com­part­ments, a cof­fee bar or in­flight gym in­stalled and re­moved as needed. Though the idea is aimed at cab­ins for commercial air­line ap­pli­ca­tion, the same con­cept could be ap­plied to ex­ec­u­tive air­lin­ers and large cabin busi­ness jets. Bizav ser­vices provider Jet Aviation, for ex­am­ple, now of­fers a quick-change con­ver­sion kit for busi­ness jets that al­lows switch­ing the in­te­ri­ors be­tween VIP char­ter and Mede­vac mis­sions as needed.

But no mat­ter how many onboard ameni­ties, the fuse­lage of even the largest busi­ness air­liner can be­come con­fin­ing over a long flight.

The so­lu­tion for some bil­lion­aires will be to go big­ger and bolder. Google co-founder Sergey Brin is re­port­edly build­ing a high-tech air­ship that would be the world’s largest air­craft. Though pri­mar­ily de­signed for hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sions, the lighter-thanair ship could also serve as an in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal “air yacht” for Brin, friends and fam­ily. Spinoff ver­sions for lux­ury travel have also re­port­edly been dis­cussed. Mean­while, UK’S Hy­brid Air Ve­hi­cles has pro­posed lux­ury tour ap­pli­ca­tions for its in-de­vel­op­ment Air­lan­der util­ity air­ship.

Th­ese air­ship con­cepts raise an im­por­tant is­sue for cabin and air­craft de­sign­ers alike: if trav­ellers are en­joy­ing their time onboard and ar­rive more re­freshed, re­laxed and re­ju­ve­nated than if they’d stayed at home, they may be in no hurry to get where they’re going. Imag­ine if Spike’s S-512 fails be­cause it’s too fast. Nonethe­less, as any ocean cruise afi­cionado can tell you, en­joy­ing all the onboard ser­vices and high-tech gad­getry and entertainment op­tions can be ex­haust­ing – an­other fac­tor bizav’s in­te­rior de­sign­ers need to keep in mind. In­deed, per­haps the cabin of the fu­ture won’t be about be­ing trans­ported some­where in style and com­fort, but about be­ing trans­ported meta­phys­i­cally.

At the Euro­pean Busi­ness Aviation Con­ven­tion & Ex­po­si­tion (EBACE) in Geneva this spring, Switzer­land-based busi­ness air­craft ser­vices provider Ruag dis­played its Skylife demon­stra­tor to se­lect guests. A VIP in­te­rior con­cept for ul­tra high-net worth in­di­vid­u­als, Skylife is be­ing de­vel­oped for in­stal­la­tion in large cabin busi­ness jets and heavy lift he­li­copters, and aims to bring the warm spirit of home and hearth to this lux­ury and tech­nol­ogy fo­cused space.

The demon­stra­tor is a large, egg-shaped pod, the in­te­rior out­fit­ted with lit­tle more than sparse seat­ing and a ceil­ing con­toured to il­lus­trate the cabin heights of the two air­craft types. Vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles re­veal the planned cab­ins, which can be ex­plored while seated, us­ing hand mo­tions to ac­ti­vate onboard sys­tems. Skylife is all about keeping and strength­en­ing fam­ily con­nec­tions as the busy ex­ec­u­tive nav­i­gates his or her sched­ule, ex­plains Fabian Köl­liker, who over­sees prod­uct man­age­ment and in­no­va­tion at Ruag, as he con­ducts the vir­tual re­al­ity tour.

But the demo begs the ques­tion: Why equip to­mor­row’s cabin at all?

Sim­ply hand out vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles and let pas­sen­gers see the cabin and out­side world as each de­sires. Why, for that mat­ter, travel to that busi­ness meet­ing or week­end ski getaway if you can don to­mor­row’s ad­vanced ver­sion of re­al­ity gog­gles and have those ex­pe­ri­ences with­out the cost and bother of ac­tu­ally going any­where?

Mean­while, aboard the Skylife Demon­stra­tor, we’re in our large cabin he­li­copter now, danc­ing amidst the peaks of the Alps. I have entertainment, in­ter­con­nec­tiv­ity, re­fresh­ments, and an in­te­rior so quiet thanks to ad­vanced noise sup­pres­sion tech­nol­ogy that we can speak with­out rais­ing our voices. But frankly, I would have thought my hun­dreds of mil­lions of net worth would have de­liv­ered a more ed­i­fy­ing and mean­ing­ful cabin ex­pe­ri­ence.

We’re set­ting down now, aim­ing for a pri­vate re­treat with a commanding view of the sur­round­ing moun­tains tucked into the snowy ter­rain. In the gog­gles I see the fam­ily wav­ing from the porch – all healthy and aglow, down­wash tus­sling their hair as we touch down, their por­trait framed by a solid wooden struc­ture – sim­ple, sturdy, low-tech. Never once could we guess that we’re still at al­ti­tude, en route to our ac­tual des­ti­na­tion.

01

01 Air­bus' in­cu­ba­tor A3's Trans­pose de­sign al­lows the cabin to be eas­ily con­fig­ured into ev­ery­thing from sleep pods, a bar or even an in­flight gym

02 Haeco Pri­vate Jet rolled out a se­ries of Asian-themed cabin de­signs, in­clud­ing this Zen cabin fea­tur­ing a tatami room

03 Hy­brid Air Ve­hi­cles pro­poses the Air­lan­der util­ity air­ship

04 The Skyview win­dow from Fokker Ser­vices

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