No one enters a fine dining restaurant through the kitchen, said a top cabin designer, so airlines are now paying more attention to galley design.
Over past decades, price has been the main factor when airlines have selected galleys, and of course, it will continue to be a decisive factor in airline selection. However, in recent years, other considerations have risen in prominence, driven by increasing airline competition in the market and soaring fuel prices.
These factors have given rise to evolving service concepts and they are leading to evolving cabin service installations.
According to Ray Hough, director of sales and marketing of interior structures at Rockwell Collins Interior Systems, in addition to price airlines are increasingly considering weight, image, service and the procurement model in decision making with respect to cabin service installations.
“With fuel costs being one of the ways airlines can more immediately improve their bottom line, reducing the weight of the aircraft has been a key focus for both airlines and aircraft OEMs. The advent of stronger and lighter composite materials has brought galley weight into the decision matrix,” he says.
“With respect to image and branding a well-used analogy is that you do not enter a five star hotel through the kitchen, so why should we do so as airline passengers?
“And since the most efficient layouts of passenger accommodation (LOPA) generally make it unavoidable to place the galleys at the main door areas, for example, to create efficient evacuation paths, then how can the first impressions of the passengers be improved in this part of the aircraft? Airlines have increasingly invested more attention in this area over the years with some very impressive and exciting developments.”
A branding opportunity
Indeed, cabin galleys can be a differentiation tool for airlines from a brand management and differentiation point of view.
“Very often, the galley is the first sight of the cabin that passengers experience upon boarding so first impressions count for a lot. Airlines exploit this to varying degrees, starting with a simple logo up to much more exotic artwork,” says Hough.
According to Virginie Iorio of cabin branding specialist, ABC International, cabin monuments such as galleys (but also lavatories) can be a great opportunity for airlines to display their brand.
“The monuments are usually located near the aircraft’s entrance door and customised features such as our cabin branding elements are the best way to ‘welcome’ passengers on board,” she says.
“Airlines are starting to use them as exposure surfaces where their logo is installed. Cabin monuments OEMs are more and more interested in customising their products and we are partnering with them on both line-fit and retro-fit programmes.
“An example is our collaboration with ENCORE, we provide them branding elements for installation onto galleys and lavatories for the B737 MAX fleet of Air Canada.”
Since 2013, ABC International is the only supplier to Air Canada of cabin branding elements which are installed onto the whole fleet. The company has almost reached the threshold of 1,000 elements of milled aluminium painted with Air Canada’s corporate colour.
These branding elements are four different types. One is the Air Canada title with independent letters and the other three elements are variants of the maple leaf logo with dimensions of eight, 12 and 16 inches, respectively.
All the decorative elements are characterised by a quick and practical installation system, since the bushings and the side grains simplify the installation work.
A brief view of the luxury being afforded to those who turn left on boarding can be glimpsed and increasingly airlines are placing social zones, bars, and passenger self-service features, integrating these with the galleys, fully or in part, in order to maximise the LOPA efficiency.
“Also the ability is recognised to transform the galley from a working area to a social area, or to simply hide the galley working area by doors and roller blinds, particularly during boarding,” says Hough.
“Increasingly, the OEMs and cabin manufacturers are closely working together to find ways to integrate other features into the galley space, including, for example, stair houses into crew rest areas, closets and wardrobes, and seat integration.”
Differentiation through service offering
In addition to effectively displaying their corporate image and managing the available space in new ways, certain medium to long haul airlines are seeking to differentiate from each other by their service offerings to their passengers and many are focussing on delivering high-end dining experiences.
“These include the ability to dine on demand, or improving the food delivery to ‘restaurant quality’. This can be as simple as transitioning from convection ovens to steam ovens or by the use of new generation microwave ovens which drive the need for the galley configuration to accommodate them,” says Hough.
“Regarding the procurement model it is important to also recognise that several OEMs have moved to a seller furnished equipment (SFE) business model for galleys, where in fact the galleys themselves are purchased by the airframe manufactures, leaving the actual selection of galley type and configuration to the airline end customer.
“This has driven catalogue developments where the challenge, and reality, has been to develop rich and customisable catalogue offerings to meet all airline expectations.”
Clearly the need for galleys is driven by the type and frequency of service being delivered. “Simply stated, short haul may require either no hot food or limiting the hot food to the premium cabin for example, whereas some long haul flights are offering up to three service deliveries over the flight.
“The challenge in all cases is to reduce and maximise the use of the dedicated galley footprint. This needs to be balanced by a strong desire from the flight attendants to maximise their available working space for service preparation.
“As a result, galley designers seek to utilise every nook of available space and compartments need to be found for all manner of items and consumables, not forgetting cabin crew personal effects and even baggage in some cases,” says Hough.
Cabin galleys are increasingly featuring innovative technological solutions that improve the passenger service activity, and these include trollies
“Over the years, several standards have evolved in the development of airline catering equipment. Examples such as ATLAS, KSSU, ACE came to define a range of catering devices used in galleys. These are often referred to as ‘standards’, but in reality are more like ‘guidelines’, with sometime a wide range of variation between one item and another of the same standard,” says Hough.
“In recent years, the industry came together to define a closer standard that, in theory, would allow galley equipment to be interchangeable.
“The ARINC 810 standards, for example, define an oven as ARINC Size 2 and provide precise dimensional and electrical characteristics that the galley suppliers can design around. This is of considerable help when designing catalogue solutions to galley designs.”
Interestingly, some airlines are sticking to their old standards because the impact to their worldwide catering operations is significant.
“This is understandable but the march to the new ARINC standard is gathering pace with all new aircraft platforms adopting it. Many airlines are therefore anticipating this and requesting the ability for their new galleys to be adaptable at a later date to meet the ARINC specifications,” says Hough.
“Another innovation has been the ARINC 812 data bus which allows a degree of galley insert connectivity that has previously not been possible. The opportunities afforded by this connectivity are not yet fully exploited but extend beyond power management to areas such as fault reporting and BITE.”
Material selection is also critical, not only for weight considerations but also taking into account factors such as flammability, hygiene, durability and aesthetics.
“Inevitably, a good galley design takes advantage of a blend of materials in order to respect all of the above factors but the basic structural panel material has evolved to the current standard of composite honeycomb panels.
“The next obvious step is towards carbon composites which do offer weight reduction benefits but with cost implications. This has so far been limited to niche applications but any significant change in fuel prices may change this,” says Hough.
Key factors for a successful cabin service installation programme are the expertise in using innovative processes, unique surface treatments and light-weight materials such as composite 3D panels, 3D printing, injection moulded polycarbonate and special anodised/gold plating effects, concludes Iorio.