Paris Air Show

Diehl and Thales collaborate on integrated airliner cabins

 - June 9, 2009, 4:43 AM

Diehl Aircabin (Hall 2, Stand 192), one of the concerns shed by Airbus as part of its Power 8 restructuring program, is investing more than $135 million in production facilities for Airbus A350 cabin components as new 51:49 joint owners Diehl and Thales look to combine their cabin system expertise and develop increasingly integrated airliner interiors.

The new owners took possession of the former Airbus subsidiary, which employs 1,100 people at Laupheim, 70 miles southeast of Stuttgart in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, at the beginning of October last year. At the official handover ceremony seven days later Diehl CEO Dr. Thomas Diehl said the combination of the two companies’ electronics capabilities with Laupheim’s cabin equipment expertise would enable Aircabin to offer complete systems.

Pointing to mockups of the A380 and A350 interiors, he said their lighting is already integrated in the cabin ceiling. “It is logical to construct the lighting with the ceiling as an integrated element,” he said. “It is also an advantage for the aircraft manufacturers to have an optimized system. We may have polymer lighting in aircraft, so we could have an illuminated ceiling with the lighting forming part of the cabin lining.”

Aircabin’s current product range embraces cabin linings and hat racks, crew rest compartments, galleys and air ducts. Examples of innovation in these fields include the A380’s stowage bins, whose design incorporates an 8W electric motor enabling a weight of more than 100 pounds to be raised with fingertip pressure, and
an overhead crew rest compartment for Singapore Airlines that accommodates 12 crew and comes complete with oxygen supply and in-flight entertainment (IFE). Future plans envision standardized cabin modules, pre-wired and fully equipped with electronic systems.

The company seems a good fit with its new owners. Diehl Aerospace, its existing joint venture in Germany, is the cabin lighting supplier for the A380 and A350 and has been selected to provide the A350’s door and slide control system plus the high-lift flap/slat control computer. Thales itself, meanwhile, has built up a commanding 45-percent share of the in-flight entertainment market.

Thales chairman and CEO Denis Ranque said focuses for development would include “weight reduction, cabin integration, geometric optimization and simplifying the life of our customers.”

Ranque also predicted major near-term growth at Laupheim. “The beauty of the commercial aviation business is that when you are selected by a customer, the first thing you win is the right to spend your shareholders’ money on developing new products,” he quipped. “But having invested already in the A350 and A380, we believe the turnover of the factory will increase 50 percent in the next four years.”

Senior vice president aerospace François Quentin said Thales and Diehl between them would have 10 times as much work on the A350 as on the A330 it will replace.

Both parents are also major suppliers to Boeing–Thales as a provider of IFE and other systems and Diehl as the supplier of cabin lighting for the 777 and 787–and they intend to pursue cabin systems work for Airbus’s rivals. Ranque said their new joint venture would target Boeing and other competitors to Airbus, though that would take time as it would involve “the renewal of generations of aircraft.”

Diehl recalled that 15 years ago Dr. Manfred Bischcoff, then the chairman of Airbus shareholder Deutsche Aerospace, one of the companies that subsequently formed EADS, had complained to him after reading that Diehl was to supply lighting to Boeing for the 777 when it was already the main supplier to Airbus. “We said, ‘Boeing only takes the best, so that is what we will do for you.’ This strengthens the basis of every kind of business,” he said.