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.
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 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