Airliner manufacturers aren’t mind readers, so it isn’t easy for them to work out what passengers will request beyond the current generation of cabin services. To find out with more certainty, Airbus has surveyed more than 10,000 people who could be passengers four decades from now to learn their preferences.
The result is the Airbus Concept Cabin, which shows how things might be. Aircraft interiors marketing head Zuzana Hrnkova said that first-, business-, and economy-class sections will become known as “‘Vitalizing,’ ‘Interaction’ and ‘Smart Tech’ zones for a bespoke in-flight experience.” The new classes of traveler accommodation will address perceived individualized requirements such as relaxation, recreation, interaction or business meetings with people on the ground.
“By offering different levels of experience within each zone, airlines would be able to achieve the price differential they need to operate a successful business, give more people access to the benefits of air travel and still look after the environment,” said Hrnkova, who summarized many possible technological innovations available to a future passenger generation.
The 2020 jetliner could sport a bionic airframe constructed like a bird’s skeleton to provide required fuselage strength, while using extra available cabin capacity. This structure would be coated with a biopolymer membrane controlling levels of humidity, natural light and temperature, including the skin’s opacity/transparency, thus giving 360-degree exterior views on demand and making windows obsolete.
Future passenger cabins also would be fully ecological, said Hrnkova. Fully recyclable plant fibers could be grown and customized to replace nonrenewable metal or plastics materials. Future materials might comprise fluid and gas rather than being solid.
In fact, Hrnkova said morphing materials that change shape and return to their original form are possible, being metals or polymers with a memory, or covered with a skin to generate a changed shape. So-called self-reliant materials would clean and repair themselves, while surface coatings inspired by nature would be used for seat fabrics and carpets; paints would seal scratches.
Future smart materials could perform numerous functions, recognizing passengers who would be connected wirelessly to the aircraft. Cabin elements could be created through additive layer manufacturing or three-dimensional printing techniques that simplify production of very complex shapes and waste less material, according to Hrnkova.
Finally, smart solutions such as energy harvesting would collect excess energy from window-blind solar panels and passengers body heat to power cabin equipment, while pictorial scenes could be projected as virtual decors for cabin wall panels.