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Form meets function

In early December, Air Transport Publications held the inaugural Aircraft Cabin Maintenance Conference at London Heathrow. The Chairman, Ian Harbison, reviews some of the highlights from the day’s proceedings

A common perception heldby engineers is that designers and airline personnel do not understand the complexity of aircraft and their systems. As a result, they claim that cabin specifications call for equipment that is difficult to install, remove, or simply access, mainly because it has been developed with no ‘real world’ knowledge. In fact, many designers actually understand how difficult the environment inside an aircraft can be, as such the Aircraft Cabin Maintenance Conference was set up as an opportunity to overcome the preconceived idea that they don’t. The concept proved to be a success, with a good mix of airlines, MROs and suppliers present, all having plenty of time to network.



The conference launched with a presentation from André Stein, Product Strategy Manager at Embraer, on the new interior for the E-Jets E2 aircraft family. Many of the cabin details were discussed in the October 2014 issue of Aircraft Cabin Management but he gave an outline of the current drivers behind cabin market trends. Passengers are much more knowledgeable about air travel these days, having more information about what is available and as such, higher expectations. Travel has also become more inclusive, taking into account an older population and those with special needs. This translates into cabin features that have to offer improved access, or storage bins that are easier to open and close – especially as passengers are avoiding checked baggage and bringing more luggage on board.


For the airlines, there is pressure on reducing their cost-per -seat, requiring seat pitch to be optimised and to offer more segmentation; more classes and more options all have an influence on revenue. To counter low ticket prices, there needs to be the possibility of greater ancillary revenue, including onboard shopping, which means an e-enabled cabin is required, connecting both passengers and crew.


As many customers will be leasing companies, being able to quickly reconfigure the cabin is becoming increasingly relevant. For the E-Jets E2, Embraer has embraced a simplified configuration control philosophy. There is one cabin floor assembly per model – instead of one per configuration – with standard structural provisions for monuments that limit the number of potential locations. This is in addition to pre-defined linings and ceiling panels, as well as interchangeable inserts and finishes. Electrical provisions are also inbuilt for most selected option items.



The new interior of the E-Jets E2 has been designed with leading design agency PriestmanGoode. Nigel Goode, one of the eponymous co-founders, discussed the approach taken in regard to the front end of the aircraft in both First and Business class. The main requirements were to create a strong visual identity that reflected an airline’s values and branding, while also being innovative and passenger oriented.


In some cases, the brand value can be developed from the traditional colours and materials used in the native culture of the airline. By adjusting the tonal values, distinct colour palettes can be developed for each cabin that still retain a cohesive effect. This is easy for soft furnishings, but typical wooden objects such as panels, louvres and shutters have to be represented by the use of veneers. Decorative bulkhead panels are also a way to incorporate some artistic aspects of the airline's culture.


On the practical side, Goode said the surface treatment of panels must be matched to the substrate materials that are used, in order to ensure longevity. Where possible, sacrificial panels can be used, which are simply replaced as an entire unit if they are worn or damaged. This needs to be worked out with the suppliers, as must the protection required to keep soft materials looking good for as long as possible. Understanding passenger use and abuse is also beneficial – most now travel with roller-bags, which tend to bump against seats and structures (as do service trolleys, of course) but this can be mitigated by the use of carefully shaped corner profiles and bump strips.


STAG Group

Rick Crosby, a Business Unit Director within the STAG Group’s Aircraft Interiors Division, said that, for aircraft seats, better design for maintenance is in the interest of both the OEMs and airlines. With so many seats in service, it is also an excellent opportunity to take a larger share of the market. Apart from overhaul work, greater standardisation of parts means more spares opportunities with economies of scale. This can include making the parts modular and shaping the base materials to accept alternatives, while ensuring that the covering materials can still be fitted easily.


He commented that, as aircraft are passed from airline to airline, seats are modified to suit each customer’s needs. This area forms a large part of a second tier industry and is largely ignored by the OEMs. At a simpler level, seat covers typically have a life of four years. With 8,000 Airbus aircraft in service, and the company delivering 500 aircraft per year, there is a replacement market for covers for 1,875 aircraft per year – a figure that is 3.75 times the size of the OEM market.


BAE Systems

Controlling the cabin has grown in recent years, said Bob Hess, Senior Cabin Systems Engineer at BAE Systems. The level of passenger comfort can differentiate – either positively or negatively – the overall experience between airlines. Typical Cabin Management Systems (CMS) functions generally include passenger address/cabin interphone, lighting, temperature, and water/waste monitoring. However, new capabilities are constantly being introduced, such as dimmable window controls or advanced lighting, as well as a greater level of configurability in the system itself.


One way to achieve increased functionality is to integrate the seat electronics. Allowing them to perform the necessary tasks in turn means fewer components. Another option is to integrate all seat communications into a single unit that provides maintenance and diagnostic functions to the crew in a centralised manner. Added benefits from this include reduced weight, fuel savings and less space required in the seat, meaning more room for the passenger. This improved connectivity allows for better access to equipment data for maintenance and troubleshooting, as well as better resource utilisation, like monitoring total lighting demand and maintaining ambient light levels.


A CMS is usually controlled via the flight attendants’ touch-screen panels, however, with limited space in the cabin there is a need to future-proof designs to allow new solutions to be integrated later. One example of this would be moving to a switched network design which allows the use of thin, simple web client control panels that are connected to a central processor.


For the latest generation of aircraft, airlines are looking towards the flow of information to improve operational efficiencies, mainly by utilising highly integrated data networks, such as 10GB and 100GB Ethernet systems or wireless networks. These also allow commercially valuable passenger data to be uploaded and downloaded to/from the aircraft. However, this approach does create some challenges. Not least is that cross-domain information sharing presents network security and data integrity challenges, potentially exposing systems to new attack/threat scenarios. This requires shared hardware resources to be carefully managed and for there to be a back-up plan when they fail or are compromised. There are attractions in using commercial technology, but any equipment must be survivable and maintainable in a challenging environment.



One aspect of greater cabin control is that connectivity is required to link the aircraft to the ground. John Broughton, Director of Product Marketing at Honeywell, said the demand for such services has rapidly accelerated in the last few years, with demand from the airlines increasing alongside the increase of available bandwidth and as the subsequent costs come down. This has been driven by an IFE content update, the introduction of live TV and an internet service, plus income being generated by passenger use. That being said, operational use is also increasing as e-enabled aircraft – such as the Airbus A350/380 and Boeing 787 – come into service and avionics database management is carried out remotely. The introduction of Inmarsat’s Ka-band satcom service this year will also provide a boost in capacity.


On a lighter note, he referred to the 2014 Honeywell connectivity survey conducted among more than 1,000 adults in the US who had used aircraft wifi in the previous 12 months. Some 85% had accessed wifi on domestic flights, while 40% had done so on international routes. While 22% had paid for the service, 17% had switched carriers for a better offering, with 29% saying they would swap tickets to fly standby for faster wifi. In fact, 66% said wifi availability influences their choice of flight, with 37% saying they would be disappointed if the service was not available on their next one.



Read more about the Aircraft Cabin Maintenance Conference here, or follow the conversation on Twitter #cabinMRO

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