Interiors expo's move to Hamburg draws praise

 - May 16, 2008, 11:19 AM

This year’s Aircraft Interiors Expo is history, and indications are that the show has weathered its initial growing pains. In Hamburg, Germany, for the first time, 241 show exhibitors welcomed more than 4,000 visitors to the new venue at the Hamburg Messe convention center from April 8 to 11.

Heide Tacheron, with the Boeing Company exhibit, was unreservedly enthusiastic in her assessment of the show: “Every customer who came by was the right customer. It’s been fabulous–the hall, the setup and the quality of the customers.”

Tacheron and others whose companies had attended the two previous shows in Cannes, France, were quick to express their satisfaction with the decision of the show organizers to move to Hamburg. While many had supported an expo devoted to aircraft interiors, they were dissatisfied with the venue in Cannes. The show, they complained, was short of floor space, not easily accessible to visitors and the low ceiling in what had previously been an underground garage at the Cannes convention center limited the size of the exhibits.

“It was obvious we had to grow, and we couldn’t grow in Cannes,” said managing director and show founder Tony Robinson. “In Hamburg we have double the available exhibit space in halls built for the purpose. It’s allowed us to create a focused show environment.”

It was apparently a good choice. The 241 companies representing 25 countries was an increase of 81 over the number of exhibitors at last year’s event. And by the third day of the Hamburg show, Robinson was predicting well over 4,000 visitors–substantially more than the 2,600 who attended the Cannes show last year. “Hamburg is now the permanent site of the show,” he told AIN.

If the venue itself was a factor, so was the geographical location and the aviation presence in one of Germany’s northernmost cities. Hamburg is home of Lufthansa Technik and will play a major role in production of the Airbus A380. It is also less than a two-hour flight from most eastern European capitals.

With slightly more than two-thirds of the available 80,000 sq ft of exhibit floor space taken at this year’s show, there remains considerable room for expansion. Robinson pointed out that a number of larger exhibitors have already committed for next year’s show, and some plan to expand their exhibit space.

Bizav Outfitters

A majority of exhibitors at this year’s expo represented commercial aviation. Nevertheless, a substantial number were dedicated to business aircraft completions. B/E Aerospace, which previously had a separate exhibit just for its aircraft seating, this year combined all of its interior products in one of the largest single exhibits by a U.S. company at the show, from interior design services and refurb to cabin lighting and seating.

Other U.S. business jet interior providers at the show included cabin-entertainment giant Airshow; interior acoustic and thermal systems makers Flight Environments and E-A-R Specialty Composites; cabin avionics manufacturer Baker Electronics; International Aviation Plywood; carpet maker Kalogridis International; seat cushion foam specialist Skandia; fabrics and leather provider Aircraft Interior Products; and leather supplier Spinneybeck.

The international business aircraft completion and refurb industry was particularly well represented at the show, with Germany’s Lufthansa Technik, and Bespoke Interiors, Neales Aircraft Interiors and Marshall Aerospace from the UK.

Aircraft Interiors Expo 2002 was the more remarkable by the presence for the first time of Kvand Aircraft Interiors. The company, which displayed a Yak-42 mockup that included a 16-g side-facing divan, is based in Minsk, Belarus, and has offices in Moscow. The company works with partners Aircraft Design Office and Minsk Aircraft Repair Plant and outsources cabin components to a number of major VIP interior component providers outside the CIS, including Lantal Textiles in Switzerland, Dettmers seating in the U.S. and Airshow. Kvand has considerable experience in creating and installing VIP and corporate interiors in Tu-154s, Tu-134s and Yak-42s, and it plans to expand its market to owners of Western aircraft.

Flight Environments announced at the show that it is now offering an acoustic insulation system for the Boeing 747. The first kit was designed and built at the company’s Paso Robles, Calif. plant and shipped to Basel, Switzerland, where it is now being installed by Jet Aviation into a VIP 747.

Aircabin of Laupheim, Germany, used the show to announce its interior design study of a corporate jet  based on the Airbus Corporate Jetliner. The result is a series of interior modules that may be produced in small quantities and used in a variety of aircraft in differing arrangements and combinations. According to president and CEO Dr. Manfred Eger, the concept shortens the delivery time and reduces costs, allowing new designs by simply recombining the individual interior modules.

In addition to the exhibition portion, the show featured some 70 seminars. The opening day was devoted to aviation security, a response, said Robinson, to September 11 and to the increasing concerns in every segment of the industry for safety and security in light of increased terrorist activity worldwide. Lectures and discussions ranged from the security-screening process to JAA activities in response to terrorism.

Days three and four of the conference focused on “corporate and VIP interiors.” Among the highlights was a presentation by Lufthansa Technik in-flight entertainment director Andrew Muirhead. The Australian-born Muirhead discussed the importance of “innovation engineering,” pointing out that it is the product of “creativity, originality and know-how, without losing touch with reality.”

He further discussed a number of recent projects that have emerged, or are about to emerge, as the result of innovation engineering at the Hamburg-based company. Among them is a modular cabin-entertainment hardware rack, which he said was inspired by the popular Meccano toy sets of building components. It replaces the customized racks that were heavier and more difficult to adapt to new hardware.

He also offered as an example Lufthansa Technik’s new Two-in-One Solution (TIOS) antenna. The kit, which received JAA and FAA certification in March, is a combined satcom and satellite-direct television antenna system housed in a custom-built fairing atop the vertical stabilizer. Also available with the $155,000 (uninstalled) kit is a digital mini-camera for installation in the leading edge of the vertical stabilizer that can interface with the existing cabin-entertainment system. Lufthansa Technik has already received orders for 14 kits to be installed in Boeing Business Jets.

Perhaps most remarkable is the development of an “invisible” flat panel speaker for cabin sound systems. It works, said Muirhead, by converting a typical cabin side or ceiling panel (metal, glass or composite) into a speaker by the attachment of a series of audio transducers. The panel then becomes the equivalent of a speaker diaphragm. “It is true ‘surround sound,’” said Muirhead.

Innovation engineering, he concluded, “is not a trend, but a necessity. It can’t be forced, but it can be nurtured, and if the soil and the nutrients and the environmental conditions are right, the ‘plant’ will grow.”

Designer vs Engineer

In a seminar on new ideas for corporate and VIP cabin designs, Robert Gotschy, head of industrial design for Aircabin of Laupheim, Germany, made note of the sometimes adversarial relationship between designer and engineer. The designer, he said, must learn to work within the restrictions of space. Showing a design based on the Aircabin study for an ACJ interior, he noted that the needs of the passenger change and the design should take this into consideration by creating some open areas and others that convey a sense of privacy and solitude. He also commented that even with the most “seamless transition” by the passengers from home or office to the aircraft cabin, passengers remain well aware that they are not on the ground, but 39,000 ft in the air and traveling at 500 miles per hour. “They are on an airplane,” he said. “And they just want to be comfortable while they’re aboard.”

One of the more intriguing sessions came from Andrew Winch, director of Andrew Winch Designs. Winch has long been involved in interior designs for “super yachts” and recently expanded his expertise to VIP aircraft interiors. He is currently working with Lufthansa on a BBJ2 interior design.

The project, he said, is particularly challenging, as the client is asking for a design similar to that of a typical old English club, with darker wood trims and satin finish.
At the same time, said Winch, the client intends to make the aircraft available for charter, and so the design has to be one that will meet the expectations of others as well.

One of the few show cancellations, according to Robinson, came from Israel Aircraft Industries. “Considering the current climate, it was understandable,” he noted.

In the meantime, he and others on the show staff were busy signing up exhibitors for next year’s expo, which is scheduled for February 26 to 28 in Hamburg. “We’ve hit our stride with Expo 2002,” he said, “and it’s only going to get bigger and better.”