Aircraft Cabin Management

Infused Essence: Japan Airlines turns to Tangerine for Airbus A350-900 interior

Japan Airlines: Airbus A350-900

Japan Airlines (JAL) signed a purchase agreement in 2013 for 31 Airbus A350 XWBs (18 A350-900s and 13 larger A350-1000s), plus options for a further 25 aircraft.

The order was part of a fleet modernisation programme, but the airline was also looking ahead to 2020, when the Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in Tokyo, with the Japanese government anticipating an additional 40 million inbound international passengers.

Following a worldwide tender, London-based international design consultancy Tangerine won the contract in 2015 to produce a completely new interior for the Airbus A350-900 aircraft.

Japan Airlines: Airbus A350-900
Inside the new Airbus A350-900’s economy class cabin

Chief creative officer at Tangerine Matt Round and Yuichi Ishihara, head of Japan Business, explain that developing a business relationship in Japan takes time – the pair has worked together on many non-aviation projects in the country – with a careful assessment of capabilities and a build-up of trust. In this case, the initial contact with JAL harks all the way back to 2009.

The brief from the airline was to express the essence of JAL through “tradition, innovation, Japanese spirit”. This evolved into a design strategy called ‘Infused Essence’, which would match the expectations of domestic passengers while appealing to international passengers as well.

Round says another way of expressing this would be the deliberate avoidance of any pastiche representations of Japan, such as a view of Mount Fuji across a bulkhead.

A great help was that Round and Ishihara could bring both a European and a Japanese perspective to the process, picking up on potential cultural clashes.

Ishihara adds that the key influences were cutting-edge technology but always with a human element; a mix of traditional and new crafts; the use of space; and the addition of textures and colours.

The first sign of ‘Infused Essence’ is external, with the winglets dipped in JAL’s signature red, and the colour diffusing gently into the white of the wing to signify an infusion of tradition into the modern-day.

This came from the title screen of Tangerine’s presentations to JAL and was noted by the airline management team, who asked for it to become part of the design.

For the first aircraft, this was applied by hand by an expert painter from Japan, who has now trained Airbus paint technicians who will apply it to the rest of fleet.

The first launch aircraft is called Daring Red and will be followed by Innovative Silver and Eco Green. In each case, a large Airbus A350 logo on the rear fuselage will be painted in the relevant colour for the first three special A350s.

Red is a recurrent colour throughout the new cabin. At the entrance to door one, passengers are met by a deep red wall with a 3D gold version of the Tsurumaru crane logo, as featured on the aircraft’s tail.  This is derived from the decoration of the airline’s lounges.

This is the first and only A350 to feature darker side walls throughout the aircraft. This brings a more intimate feeling to the cabin and contrasts with pure white ceiling and overhead bins that reflect light into the space.

However, it did have an effect on the LED mood lighting, with light green and purple found to be unsuitable. Much of the lighting work was carried out at the Airbus Customer Definition Centre in Hamburg, with furnishing materials being exposed to different colours to find the best presentation.

Japan Airlines: A350-900
Red is a recurrent colour throughout the new A350-900 cabin

A range of six lighting programmes was designed by tangerine for JAL: welcome, taxi and take off/landing, meal, relax, sleep and wake. An additional pure white setting is used for cabin maintenance. All will be used on the Boeing 777 fleet, with a number also applicable to the A350.

The curtains that divide the cabin classes are the result of experimentation with production machinery. Vertical micro-pleats combine with horizontal impressions in the surface to give form and texture to the textile.

These, along with the carpet throughout the aircraft, come from Botany Weaving. The carpet has a 50/50 pattern of blue-black and a high-density red.

First class

First Class has just 12 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration at 53in pitch and so is a relatively small cabin. The division of space in Japanese culture (called Ma) is created through suggestions of boundaries rather than physical borders and this is reflected here.

At the front of the cabin, the bulkhead from AIM Aviation features a pleated architectural form, inspired by origami, that diffuses the feature lighting. The red wall and 3D crane might be expected here, but Round says this would be too dominant.

In fact, large areas of red are only seen when walking through the aircraft towards the rear. When the passenger turns around, there is a much softer colour palette.

The geometry of the 20in-wide Jamco Corporation first-class seat was redefined by Tangerine by lowering the seat height and changing the angles of the seat pan and seatback. This makes it more closely tailored to the Japanese height percentile and so provides improved comfort from initial contact with the seat. Another part of this is a slight recline during taxi and take off/landing, returning to upright for meal service.

The ‘Infused Essence’ design strategy means ordered geometric forms create a distinctive visual signature of angled shapes, contrasted with the natural forms of the seat cushions. The seat features sofa-like comfort with a soft seat cushion, while a large shell provides privacy, supplemented by a central divider.

Japan Airlines: Airbus A350-900
First class cabin on Japan Airlines’ Airbus A350-900

Round says this was inspired by a relationship with nature being a key part of Japanese culture and so the challenge was to bring elements of the natural world into a manufactured environment.

There is an appreciation for imperfection in natural elements and, in the case of the leather cushions, these stop the seat looking hard and functional (all leather elements have been supplied by Rohi). The same motivation influenced the choice of PolyStone material for the cocktail tables, each with its own unique natural-looking pattern.

The privacy screen between the paired seats uses a semi-translucent material from Boltaron with a crosshatch pattern derived from Japanese glazing. As well as providing privacy, it casts shadows into the interior from natural light coming from outside.

At the same time, there has been an emphasis on craftsmanship in the design of form, materials and textures. The grain and stitching of the E-Leather wrapping over the top of the seat shell creates a distinctive signature for JAL.

The seatback and the leg rest can be adjusted electrically and incorporates a massage function. As the aircraft is only used on domestic routes, there is no need to convert to a bed.

The Panasonic wifi IFE system has a 15.6-inch monitor with remote control. All seats have USB and AC power ports, with ample storage space and a coat hook. A red laminate on the side of the seat resembles woven material.

Japan Airlines: A350-900
The privacy screen between JAL’s first class seats has a cross-hatch pattern derived from Japanese glazing

Class J

Class J sits as a premium offer between first and economy that is available at a relatively low cost. The cabin has 94 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration at 38-inch pitch. The 18.7-inch width of the Recaro PL3530 seat is emphasised by splitting the seat covers at armrest height into two distinct colour blocks of burgundy and inky blue-black.

Soft woven fabric on the backrest aids passenger comfort and the use of real leather on the seat pan provides good support and durability. The seat has an adjustable leg rest.

Unusually, there is no seatback tray table. Instead, armrest tables are located between each pair of seats. A cocktail tray with a red laminate is attached to the front of each table unit – a small metal insert in the centre defines the service area for each passenger.

There is an 11.6-inch monitor with remote control and all seats have a USB port under the personal monitor and an AC power port in the centre console, as well as a reading light with adjustable angle and brightness.

Storage space is under the monitor along with a side pocket in the armrest for books and tablets and a compartment for personal items. There is also a coat hook. A JAL-red bulkhead is at the rear of the cabin and the cocktail tray incorporates a black/red pattern.

Comfort economy

There are 263 economy seats in a predominantly 3-3-3 configuration at 31-inch pitch – the final two rows are 3+2 and a triple unit respectively.

When passengers enter the cabin, the impression is composed and monochromatic. As they turn to sit down, this changes from tones of grey to crisp white, with a flash of red on the seatback literature pocket.

The Recaro CL3710 seats are 17.3-inch wide with a 10-inch monitor and an adjustable leather headrest. Again, there is a material break at armrest height, with leather on the seat and lower back and fabric on top. There are net pockets for stowage, capable of holding a 750ml water bottle while retaining its elasticity. All seats have USB and AC power ports, along with a coat hook and a cup holder.

Japan Airlines: Airbus A350-900
The 18.7-in wide Recaro PL3530 seat in premium economy combines soft woven fabric and real leather

JAL has developed an alternate seating layout for the aircraft that can be utilised during peak travel seasons, although details are still to be announced.


Inspiration here came from small Japanese spaces, which often use a combination of dark colours and textures to create a sophisticated space.

In this instance, dark brown walls have a metallic copper overprint, mirroring the custom dark brown PU coating applied to the aircraft interior walls. The colours and textures are contrasted with the pure white of the sink, the pale oak grain pattern on the vanity unit and the lighting on the stone-like floor.

Japan Airlines: Airbus A350-900
Inspiration for the A350’s bathrooms came from small Japanese spaces

The aircraft went into service on 1 September last year, flying between Tokyo-Haneda and Fukuoka, a distance of just 880km with a flight time of 110 minutes.

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