Airbus implements in-house cabin management

Airbus family of aeroplanes

Airbus has implemented a common, integrated, in-house cabin management architecture for its aircraft range, from the A320 Family right up to the A380.

With the A220 the exception to the rule, the manufacturer says it is observing closely to ensure the model’s Panasonic CMS meets established Airbus standards.

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Two decades or so ago, there began a dawning realisation among the airlines and wider aerospace industry that the passenger experience was a new and important paradigm in the quest to secure customer loyalty. Since then, air travellers have come to expect and accept an interactive IFE experience and inflight connectivity through their portable devices.

Less obvious, but perhaps equally persuasive in defining their experience, subtle cabin changes achieved through manipulating light colour and patterns are also increasingly the norm.

Controlling and optimising these various features, a cabin control system (CCS) or cabin management system (CMS) is the essential modern interface between disparate cabin systems and the cabin crew, with further layers of essential cabin control, monitoring and safety functionality that passengers ought never to be aware are happening.

Control is generally effected through one or more screens, typically touchscreens, via a detailed graphical user interface that varies with selected CMS functionality.

Airbus, which terms these screens Flight Attendant Panels (FAP), has developed a comprehensive, integrated in-house CMS for almost its entire aircraft range. The exception is the new A220 (ex-C Series), which employs a Panasonic system.

An Airbus spokesperson explained: “We provide the cabin management system as part of the basic aircraft design. Cabin crew access it via a FAP located in the galley area.

“The CMS is fully customisable, and Airbus offers a large catalogue of optional functions. These include branding capabilities – lighting, music and digital airline logos – and functionalities specific to individual airline cabin layout. The CMS also includes cabin operational and safety functions.”

Airbus cabin control system

Looking beyond lighting and IFE, the CMS also has surprisingly large and important safety and operational roles.

“The Airbus CMS is an integrated network, enabling safe aircraft operation and equipping the crew to control and/or monitor all the cabin systems essential to passenger comfort, including the air conditioning, lighting, IFE, passenger announcements and lavatories.

“Essential safety functions include door monitoring, ‘Watchdog’, a predictive slide deployment warning system, cabin pressure monitoring, slide status monitoring, intercommunication between crew stations, passenger safety messages and evacuation signalling, and passenger communication.”

These basic, essential comfort and safety management, monitoring and control functions are important cabin-wide but have the increasing electrification of seat/suite functions in business and first classes enabled a greater interaction between the CMS and cabin equipment in those zones?

Or perhaps it actually places a greater burden on the CMS? Airbus responds:

“Our integrated CMS allows the addition of features and functionalities depending on airline branding, procedural and equipment needs. As an example, when airlines select our optional electromechanical window shades, the CMS enables crews to raise or lower every shade at the touch of a button.”

CMS evolution

Over the past decade or so, CMS capability has expanded both in the way it enables the crew to interact with the cabin and in what it can actually do.

According to Airbus: “The major evolution over the past decade has essentially developed around connectivity, video monitoring, lighting and video/data streaming, advancing technologies in these areas working with the CMS to help simplify how the cabin is controlled.

“Meanwhile, functionalities like predictive slide deployment control are enhancing cabin safety and supporting cabin crew as they perform their most essential duties.” Of course, the method of crew interaction with the CMS, via the FAP in the case of just about every Airbus, has also evolved with emerging screen and graphic technologies.

Onboard connectivity has given passengers streaming media, email, social media access and more, while at the same time both contributing to and enabling the collection of system data and its transmission offboard, to airline maintenance and operations departments.

Man scrolling on iPhone

CMS information gathered and transmitted to the ground in these standard aircraft data packages might have benefits to passengers where, say, an impending failure within the cabin system architecture was detected and avoided through swift rectification/prevention at the next stop.

The benefits to operations from recognising a potential departure delay before it happens, to a maintenance department from knowing a fault in advance, are also clear.

Today, the Airbus CMS is not directly connected to the onboard connectivity systems, although limited built-in test equipment data is accessible for post-flight reports. However, the airframer reports:

“We aim to continuously improve our products with the satisfaction of our airline customers and their passengers in mind. Gathering and analysing broader cabin data presents us with an opportunity to improve the experience of both, and we are engaged in ongoing studies towards evolving our integrated CMS solution in that direction.

“We are also taking a step-by-step approach to ensuring consistency between the in-service fleet and new aircraft deliveries, considering the latest expectations of the airlines and their passengers. Our objective is to continuously improve cabin operations, reliability and services.”

The A220 is inevitably and unavoidably the exception to Airbus’ in-house CMS policy. It features a Panasonic CMS, considered an outstanding choice for an exceptional cabin when Bombardier announced it during the C Series development programme.

Panasonic’s cabin products enjoy a huge reputation for quality and capability – its CMS equips Boeing’s 787 and has been selected for the 777X. Airbus says that, within its family programme approach, its cabin design has always focused on two ‘major axes’, operator satisfaction and passenger satisfaction.

With the introduction of the A220 into the Airbus family and its established cabin design principles in mind, the company plans to “pursue these axes in a timely manner and ensure alignment with market expectations.”

That said, the Airbus family now extends from the Panasonic-equipped, 100-135 seat A220, through the 124-160 seat, Airbus CMS-equipped A319, to the 500+ seat A380, yet the airframer says it is harmonising the CMS throughout its family. The implication is that one CMS standard fits all.

“Yes, functionality is independent of aircraft size,” the spokesperson confirms. “And it is important to note that the A320 Family now covers a very wide variety of operational profiles, including long-range missions. The airlines, therefore, require the same or very similar functionality from their single-aisle aircraft CMS as they have in their widebody jets.”

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