Airbus has been introducing capacity enhancements across its entire range of aircraft models as well as modifications that give airlines new opportunities.
Recent years have seen the introduction of new aircraft variants under the neo brand, the adoption of the Bombardier C Series into the Airbus family, the introduction of the Airspace cabin concept (now being transferred from widebody to narrowbody aircraft) and the smarter use of space to add seats.
Airbus has been steadily increasing passenger capacity of the single-aisle aircraft range. The latest development is Cabin-Flex, which takes maximum capacity to 240 passengers on an A321neo.
This has been partly achieved by incorporating the Space-Flex rear cabin galley configuration and Smart-Lav design, and by taking advantage of the relaxed emergency exit restrictions that increased maximum capacity to 189 seats on A320ceo/neo models.
The forward and aft doors are significantly larger than the Type C requirements of the original certification, and wider evacuation slides or slide/ rafts have also been added. Of course, Airbus points out that increased capacity still comes with an 18in wide seat.
However, Cabin-Flex is much more, as it incorporates significant airframe changes as well. Door 2 has been removed, and optional double over-wing exits added (the second exit is mandatory for the increased capacity), as well as shifting Door 3 aft by four frames.
Door 2 and the first cross-aisle can be at a point where an airline may want to put a cabin divider, and the emergency exit can get in the way. With an unbroken space from Door 1 to the over-wing exits, there is much more scope for airlines to develop premium cabins for their aircraft, says Anaïs Marzo da Costa, head of aircraft interiors marketing.
While easyJet took delivery of the first A321neo in a Cabin-Flex configuration, in July, this was in a single class 235-seat configuration, but, in the same month, Turkish Airlines took delivery of the first A321neo in configuration, to be operated with 20 seats in Business Class and 162 in Economy Class.
Cabin-Flex will become the production standard from next year and this brings into play another important aspect of its flexibility, particularly in the forward cabin. That is because it is also a feature of the Airbus A321LR, the long-range variant of the aircraft.
With three additional centre tanks (ACTs), the increased fuel capacity will allow it to fly routes of up to 4,000nm with 206 passengers, making it ideally suited to transatlantic routes.
The aircraft received EASA and FAA certification in October 2018, with the first delivery being made in November to Arkia of Israel, although, once again, it is a low cost carrier that has taken the lead, so it is configured with 220 seats in a single-class layout.
However, that range capability will certainly drive operators to look at extra comfort for their elite passengers. She says the company is already seeing airlines looking at more of a widebody approach to their cabins, and it helps that Airbus has the widest fuselage cross-section.
IngoWuggetzer, vice president of cabin marketing at Airbus, adds that there is certainly demand for more comfort products in the front, but extra range is also proving to be a driver of increased segmentation in the cabin, either first/business/economy or adding premium economy.
Another factor, related to time in the air rather than distance flown, is the increased levels of services and supplies for passengers. This ranges from higher capacity galleys to carry more catering, to increased water volumes for consumption and for lavatory flushing – and additional lavatories may also be installed mid-cabin.
He points out that another aspect of this can be seen from the transfer of the company’s Airspace cabin concept from the A350/330neo into the narrowbody family.
This was highlighted at AIX this year and includes the Airspace XL bin, the largest in its class, allowing eight, instead of five bags per four-frame bin, and accommodating 40 per cent bigger and heavier bags stowed vertically; the harmonised door surround and ceiling lighting starting in the entrance and running through the entire cabin; new sidewall panels with one more inch width at shoulder level for extra personal space; new window bezels with fully integrated window shades, evoking the feel of the A350; and a new lavatory design that features coloured mood lighting, along with antibacterial coatings, automatic aroma dispenser, sound and optional touchless options.
TAP was the launch customer for the A330neo with the Airspace interior, and selected a rather conservative interpretation of that concept, featuring only a few of the many options available. One of these was the XL bin, and da Costa comments that the airline made a decision to include centreline bins in Business Class, reducing the potential spacious feel of the cabin.
This was because routes to South America from Portugal traditionally have heavy baggage requirements, and so it was a case of substance over style. On the other hand, she says the airline makes extensive use of the mood lighting in flight, using green and red to reinforce the brand.
It will also have grip rail lighting on later aircraft (to be retrofitted on the first two), which will be a further enhancement. Wuggetzer adds that TAP has integrated the new welcome lighting feature at Door 2, with a unique TAP pattern that creates a great welcome for passengers, even if there is an operational need for a large galley.
In 2019, da Costa says things will change as more airlines take delivery of new aircraft. No details are available, for obvious reasons, but there are some interesting concepts to be revealed.
For the A350, the cabin concept remains the same. Wuggetzer says passenger feedback is absolutely amazing, and airlines are reporting that Net Promoter Scores are at a record level for this aircraft. Even so, there will be a slight upgrade to the pillars in the entrance area.
Both agree that the A380 is definitely airline driven when it comes to interiors. That ranges from Etihad and The Residence, to Emirates and its illuminated Ghaf tree, with the latest customer All Nippon Airways the next in line.
The dramatic turtle colour scheme has already been revealed, but they say ‘there is more to come’ with a new cabin style. Wuggetzer explains that consideration must now also be given to the A220 (the former Bombardier C Series).
He says it has an excellent cabin, which is more of a single-aisle aircraft than a regional aircraft, and fits in well with the A320 Family, offering similar comfort and service levels.
Bombardier clearly thought about passenger wellbeing, with big windows and mood lighting, and seemed to have applied the same values at Airbus, says da Costa. For the future, connectivity will be increasingly important, both to provide seamless travel for passengers and as a source of ancillary revenue for airlines.
Wuggetzer says Airbus is in an excellent position to enable this, looking at it as an ecosystem that will be extended to the Internet of Things throughout the cabin, especially predictive maintenance.
Visit airbus.com for more information.