LED lighting solutions installed in the cabins of commercial airliners are increasingly enabling a use of light on board that is personalised to the individual needs and preferences of passengers and with little or no interference with the space of other fliers.

    In an economy class seat, for example, a passenger could be doing many different things, from sleeping, to reading, to watching preloaded content on their mobile device or using the inflight entertainment system. The personalised usage of lighting is therefore very important.

    Personalised usage of light

    Simon Lesage, Lighting/PCU product line manager at Astronics PGA, says there are now two different approaches.

    One approach is to provide a reading light as an aesthetic complement of the seat, while an alternative is to simply provide a purely functional product up to the point that it becomes invisible for some seat integrations:

    “Our goal is to propose the most advanced interaction choices between the passenger and their personal area, including being able to play with their reading lamp,” he says.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabins

    “This is possible by several features in products such as lighting colour configuration or a deeper functional change in the product use. For example, the tactile surface of Astronics PGA’s Mila proposes a new and spontaneous way to control in-seat lighting.

    “It has up to four touch zones, single touch, sliding effects (vertical, horizontal, circular) or nothing at all. Mila can also be used for different ways to match an airline’s needs in terms of ambience for its customers.”

    “LED technology is used for all forms of personal lighting needs ranging from reading lights to speciality lighting,” says Steve Scover, vice president and general manager of lighting and integrated systems at Rockwell Collins.

    “Some of our customers desire specific architectural elements such as sconces or lighting elements embedded in seating features, floor elements and monuments. We provide a wide variety of LED lighting solutions in all shapes and applications to suit these needs.”

    According to Dr Lauren Fleming, senior research and development scientist at STG Aerospace, 2016 statistics from the IATA suggest that reading is still the number one pastime on short haul flights, while American Airlines report that more than 90 per cent of their passengers bring a device or screen on board with them.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabin

    “However, the need for an integrated lighting environment within the cabin has never been more important. Is the cabin lighting ready for the many different activities an average passenger could be doing?

    “Lighting will always be at its best when it has been tailored for the specific task, but how can you tailor lighting when so many different activities are available to an average passenger? STG Aerospace has designed a personalised optic that delivers the correct quality and quantity of light that complements the passenger and their desired choice of inflight entertainment,” Fleming points out.

    “Manufactured using multi-phosphor LEDs that produce a high quality, uniformly illuminated area, the liTeMood® LED Reading Light is proven to reduce glare on mobiles, tablets and inflight entertainment.

    “An optimal reading environment is created from a greater reproduction of colours, making the clarity of text and images ‘pop’ off the page because of high colour rendering index (CRI) to a neutral white colour (3500-4000K), which helps to aid concentration. As for those passengers who just wish to sleep during their flight, the optical unit has been balanced with intensity to provide a light which does not impact on other passengers trying to sleep.”

    LED red, green, blue, white (RGBW) lights offer a good opportunity for personalisation and passenger-centric solutions. Warmer lights can be offset with cooler lights and vice versa.

    “Airline brand colours can be subtly accented into the cabin. On a personal level, colour bias can be catered for,” says Tim Manson, design director for transport at JPA Design.

    “For example, I have an inbuilt reaction to blue lighting – in certain circumstances, it reminds me of cheap tech. Personally, I respond better to warmer tones particularly when flying. However, another person will have a completely different relationship with lighting, they may prefer a more clinical look or colourful space and have a different cultural relationship to light.”

    RGBW lighting is the expectation for airline’s tailored control of their cabin environment, with bin and sidewall lighting featuring this for many years.

    “It is also now a growing trend on most discerning high-end seats. Bespoke in-seat lighting has a great effect on mood lighting, environmental control, complementing materials and reinforcing the airline’s character/brand. This is a trend we hope to see continue,” says William Harbidge, senior designer at JPA Design.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabin

    Airline requirements

    There is a specific set of criteria that airlines consider when opting for lighting installations and/or retrofitting. “The key reasons we approach or develop certain products are their aesthetic nature and how they work with the seat or cabin as a product,” says Harbidge.

    “Other factors include what material and form customisation options are available to better meet the airline’s character and how refined the mechanisms are if it has moving parts. Attention is also paid to how special it is and how it elevates the passenger experience. Finally, consideration is given to how it fits into the construction of the seat, as, for instance, many task lights are concentrating now on smaller mounting depths.”

    According to Marc Renz, head of business development of cabin systems at Diehl Aviation, the light must, first of all, fulfil its actual lighting function, such as providing sufficient brightness.

    “The light must ensure that the passive floor path markings can charge. The light element must, as far as possible, supply consistent quality of light over its entire lifetime. Here, aspects such as colour fidelity and brightness ageing compensation play an important role. The light element must also be as cost-effective as possible over its complete lifetime,” he says.

    “The majority of our customers consider the feature set first. Essentially, what does the system offer, and does it meet the technical and aesthetic requirements of their cabin. The reliability and long-term technical flexibility of the system is also a key consideration. The overall cost of ownership is also an element that enters into the discussion,” says Scover.

    According to Nigel Duncan, chief executive officer of STG Aerospace, aside from the benefits that LEDs have to offer – such as a reduction in power consumption and increased reliability – changing an aircraft’s lighting is one of the least expensive things to do, but can have the biggest impact.

    “We have looked at reconciling value and the passenger experience and created the ‘Cost of Comfort’ pyramid. From a cost perspective, LED lighting is the most cost-effective investment an airline can make that delivers the biggest difference to the passenger experience,” he says.

    “Cost and improvement to service are high on the agenda when considering retrofit. Cabins are unique places, and each and every airline has specific routes and customer preferences it has to cater for,” says Manson.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabin

    “At the JPA studio, we recently installed a Schott Heliojet system so that we can create and refine custom lighting scenarios well in advance of project milestone meetings. It allows us to be able to specify exact profiles and check for any adverse colour and material issues ahead of lighting workshops.”

    An airline’s specific intentions also influence the choice of light sources. “For some airlines, these solely concern long-term maintenance cost reductions. In this context, LED lights simply mean never having to change another fluorescent tube,” says Renz.

    “Other airlines wish to use lighting to achieve branding effects. An obvious example would be that an airline with a pink logo wishes to use pink lighting in the cabin. However, another airline may wish to specifically influence the cabin ambience in a positive way by increasing the quality of light. This would include the use of lighting that supplies a constant luminosity.

    “For example, the white LED lighting from Diehl maintains the same colour temperature throughout its entire useful life. The varying colour nuances we know from systems comprised of individual fluorescent tubes belong to the distant past. Fresh, white light simply suggests a ‘new cabin’ and better quality.”

    Some airlines simply desire environmentally friendly lighting schemes – thanks to their efficiency and extremely long lifetimes, modern LED lights reduce power consumption in cabins over the long term.

    “Moreover, it is particularly important for other airlines to have the older section of their fleet retrofitted with lighting solutions to create the impression of new aircraft. For this, Diehl offers exactly the same solutions that are built into the OEM Linefit. Currently, in Linefit, almost 80 per cent of all large passenger aircraft are fitted with Diehl lights,” says Renz.

    Brand differentiation

    Lighting solutions are increasingly helping airlines in their brand differentiation efforts.

    “Our lighting systems can be configured for colour branding and can be programmed for seasonal changes. A variety of hardware and software lighting features can also be designed into the system that provides scenes that can be proprietary to the customer for brand identity,” says Scover.

    As a trend in-cabin environment management, cabin ambient lighting permits airlines to show their branding without huge investments.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabin

    “The idea with products like Mila is to reach the perfect harmony with colour matching and cabin overall lighting scenarios. The reading light can also be more adaptive with airlines logo directly engraved if needed,” says Lesage.

    “While the back plate can match any colour, airlines can choose between standard pictograms or add company logos to ensure a fully customised product. We also defined a huge catalogue of finishes and renderings to match any needs in terms of integration with more than 23 million different association possibilities.”

    There are almost no limits on lighting designs for cabins today.

    “Limitless colour shades and countless effects can be used. Combined with innovative projection systems such as Dandelion, this means that airlines can now use cabin lighting to present themselves as individually as never before,” says Renz.

    “For example, lighting colours can be harmonised across the entire fleet, such as Airbus or Boeing. To this end, we also offer airline operators workshops as part of our mock-ups. Lighting colours and spectrums can even be matched to fabrics, from the carpet to the seat covers, uniforms, linings and more.”

    Manson believes that lighting and its colour and relationship to the environment are the strongest brand signature tools available.

    “They are extremely powerful when combined correctly. Brands with highly chromatic elements in their brand palette have an easier step to directly link lighting to the airline’s brand, whereas those with subtler colour palettes require the combination of design, materiality and lighting to create an immersive and atmospheric experience. Singapore Airlines is a good example of this,” he says.

    LED lighting, aircraft cabin

    Combined with the fact that the right lighting can make the cabin seem newer, cleaner and safer, this brand differentiation can lead to significantly improved customer loyalty. “Airlines should definitely consider the upgrading of cabin lighting as an investment, not a cost,” says Duncan.

    “Understanding the total interaction of all light sources in the aircraft cabin leads to the delivery of an enhanced passenger experience, increased customer loyalty, a strong airline brand identity and the optimisation of the cabin as a retail, work and pleasure environment, while still ensuring full compliance with all safety regulations.”

    “Cabin lighting is as an extension of an airline’s character and brand. It can be the introduction of brand colours, draw environmental-parallels to their home or reinforce their fun or conservative nature. Lighting products, both big and small, have the capability to be defining items within a new cabin,” concludes Harbidge.