There’s more to overhead baggage bins than meets the eye, reports Bernie Baldwin.

    [This feature first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Aircraft Cabin Management, which you can read in full here.]

    They began as simply ‘hat-racks’ because really that was just about all they were required to hold. Now, however, modern overhead baggage bins are capable of holding roller bags almost the size of suitcases. 

    Further enhancements are on their way, too. When boarding, travellers want to stow their bag as near to them as possible and, once they arrive at the destination airport gate, they nearly all want to disembark swiftly and get on with the next stage of their journey. So, bin access and capacity are extremely important.

    Across the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of luggage bins, each has worked on a variety of cabin designs in recent years, with a number of innovations which have brought real advances to baggage bin technology.

    According to Safran Cabin’s vice-president of marketing Nathan Kwok, the company has brought a “real advantage in providing a new bin technology for narrowbody and regional aircraft, both for new aircraft and for retrofitting existing aircraft”. He adds, “Our ECOS luggage bins increase luggage capacity up to 60 per cent, so that every passenger has a space for their bag.”

    “The ECOS Fixed Shelf Overhead Bin was designed by Safran Cabin to provide a substantial increase in luggage capacity, to allow stress-free boarding for passengers, simplify crew work load and reduce turnaround times,” he continues. “As noted, it has up to 60 per cent more bag capacity, compared with today’s bin system. Shorter turnaround times are brought about by minimising the need to offload passenger bags and the need for passengers to find space to store their luggage.” These attributes have greater value when it comes to the swift turnarounds of low-fare airlines.

    Kwok emphasises that the ECOS bin has been designed to cope with ‘real world’ carry-on baggage. “The larger bin allows stowing bags on edge, wheels first, increasing luggage capacity, as shown in the ‘On Edge Stowage’ table.

    “Some of our customers want to give their First and Business class travellers a premium experience, even if they make a connection on a regional jet to their final destination. So, we are seeing demand for two- and even three-class configurations on regional aircraft,” Kwok reports. “In response, we offer retrofit packages on both E-Jet and CRJ aircraft, with larger bins and larger lavatories, so a passenger who has just got off a long-haul flight in business class can bring their carry-on into their connecting aircraft.”

    FACC is the company within the Avic Cabin Systems (ACS) Group dedicated to the manufacture of baggage bins. Many of its recent cabin designs, highlights Thomas Flotzinger, head of design organisation, have been delivered in its role as a long-time strategic partner of Airbus, for which it is “producing high quality bins for the A320 ‘Airspace’ and A350 XWB cabins”, although it is also a supplier of bins for the COMAC ARJ21 and C919 and the UAC Superjet SSJ100.

    “The A320 ‘Airspace XL Bin’ is the biggest overhead stowage compartment in the category of short- and medium-haul aircraft,” Flotzinger claims. “The newly designed overhead stowage compartment offers space for eight items of baggage – instead of the previous total of five – with a total weight of 96kg, yet it only weighs 26kg.

    “This is a ground-breaking result made possible by substantial engineering efforts. In addition to a high level of comfort and sufficient space, the most important aspects of a passenger cabin are low weight, convenient handling, low operating costs and high reliability,” he adds. “In this regard, Airbus can depend on FACC as a proven and reliable partner, which has been an interior supplier to Airbus since 2001. FACC innovations, such as use of new and improved combination of different materials and manufacturing technologies, enable us to offer – together with Airbus – a product with significantly increased stowage as well as improved component weight.”

    Also, as part of its collaboration with Airbus, FACC has developed the PLSU (Passenger Luggage Space Upgrade), which Flotzinger says offers customers an attractive aircraft interior, ample storage space and enormous weight savings. 

    “This product not only enhances cabin ambience, but also improves functionality by increasing stowage space by 67 per cent while reducing weight. The modified compartments can fit up to five hand luggage cases instead of just three,” he explains. FACC says the PLSU can be installed in just “seven to eight hours”, which means a complete set of units can be integrated into the aircraft overnight. 

    Overhead bins are mostly supplier-furnished equipment (SFE), from a catalogue. However, airlines always want to differentiate themselves with a better product associated with their brand. So, is there the potential for bins to move to being buyer-furnished equipment (BFE) more often, and what might the benefits and the challenges be in doing that?

    “Within the cabin, overhead baggage bins are the most complex parts in terms of certification, so they are not very prone to being customised,” Flotzinger observes. “Nevertheless, bins can be used for differentiation by volume, actuation type, payload, enhanced robustness, individual illumination plus paint and texture and surface materials. As we look ahead though, there will also be differentiation by having a touchless passenger-bin interface which will allow passengers to avoid physical contact with the latches.”

    Already on the case to provide this type of technology is Diehl Aviation, which – in response to Covid-19 – has launched a product innovation initiative dubbed the Cabin Confidence Concept. As well as applying its expertise to optimising air circulation and using UV-C technology to disinfect surfaces, the company has been working on numerous touchless features for the aircraft cabin. 

    While Diehl says it will be looking at flight-ready disinfectant dispensers, corona placards for cabin hygiene and hands-free lavatory handles as immediate applications, the potential is clearly there for it too to examine touchless bin latches.

    Returning to the idea of overhead bins becoming BFE, the situation at Safran Cabin is similar to that at FACC. “We have a long history of supplying BFE retrofit overhead bin packages for airlines that want to upgrade their bag capacity,” Kwok confirms. “In our experience, the benefit is mainly in the aftermarket, as bag capacity needs have evolved, and the operators want to provide a uniform level of service regardless of the aircraft’s age. 

    The challenge in making the line-fit product BFE is it adds another layer of variability to the OEM configure and build process. This is hard to justify – overhead bins are not heavily customised when new, compared with a seat or a galley,” Kwok elaborates. “Rather than move to BFE, we have seen OEMs offer options for different bin sizes and types as a way to give airlines more choice, while still maintaining the stability of an SFE contract. For those who want something really special and unique, we have partnered with airlines to work with OEMs on making exceptions.”

    With such a variety of bin options, airlines have the possibilities to ensure their passengers’ baggage storage can be met by the OEMs’ products. It’s therefore fair to say that you should take your hat off to them.