Everything from the type of materials to the kind of colours used in aircraft interiors has been turned on its head by the corona pandemic. Here, Tapis sales director Matthew Nicholls discusses the future of fabrics with features editor Melissa Moody

    The Covid-19 outbreak has forced the whole world to revaluate how it works, with the aviation industry at the top of the list. Keeping passengers willing to travel is a huge priority, with many airlines completely overhauling interiors, and the fabrics used, for a post-coronavirus future.

    Fabric is being exchanged for easy-clean synthetics and dark colours moved onto the backburner for a cleaner looking palette, explains Matthew Nicholls, sales director at aircraft interior manufacturer Tapis.

    “For the last 30 years or so, we’ve essentially tried to hide dirt and micro-organisms in an aircraft interior by employing darker hues wherever possible to mask the colour of soiling, but the healthcare industry works in completely the opposite way.

    “I think at the moment, the situation is in such a state of flux that it’s hard to predict where aircraft interiors are headed and what trends may emerge. In the future, I think we’re going to see a subconscious demand from customers to ‘see’ that an interior is clean – and colour is the way to do it,” he comments.

    Nicholls notes that the aviation industry may be looking to healthcare for further inspiration as things get back to normal.

    Fabrics - Tapis

    “When you look at PPE and any surgical materials used in hospitals, they’re all typically white or light colours. When you look at companies such as Apple, who are famed for their clean design principals, their stores and products are always in either white or stainless steel. High-end open kitchens are also usually in stainless steel and that is done to show their customers that they’re clean.”

    According to the New York-headquartered company, there has been a big uptake in enquiries looking to switch from fabric to synthetic leather for its wipe-clean and disinfection capabilities. The flagship Promessa AV featuring anti-microbial technology has become one of its most-requested fabrics, with major global airlines installing it on fleets while they are grounded.

    Promessa
    Promessa AV is considered a top option in the current environment

    Nicholls also cites the Ultraleather Whitewash Pro as an option for aircraft of the future, as it is both stain and ink-resistant, as well as being anti-microbial, and is available in a wide array of light colours. It also has good durability, is easily disinfected and cleaned to keep any passenger anxieties at bay. 

    “Traditional woven fabrics can only be sanitised by removal of the dress cover and dry cleaning or machine washing. There’s not enough time do this every day, so it typically only happens every three to
    four months, and that’s a long time to sit on a non-sanitised surface in this new era,” explains Nicholls.

    Sustainability in doubt

    The sudden change in airline’s needs has meant that other initiatives have had to take a step back, one of which is sustainability. While the aviation industry as a whole has made leaps and bounds in the area, any interest in sustainable products has waned considerably in the
    last six months.

    One new product in the pipeline is Volar Bio by Ultrafabrics, which works with Tapis; this contains a high concentration of bio-based materials in the black cloths and resins used, making the entire manufacturing process more sustainable and renewable. While the TapiSuede products are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, this isn’t currently what airlines are looking for.

    “We started to see some movement towards sustainable products around nine to 12 months ago, but the pandemic has literally brought these to a sudden halt,” admits Nicholls. “It’s been a challenge on many fronts and the fluidity of the situation has meant we have had to be very nimble in order to adapt.

    “Our aim is to help our airline customers as much as possible to navigate this new world, and one of the first things that we did was host private webinars for our customers about Covid-19. These keep them informed on what it is, how it impacts surface materials and how to inactivate it as much as possible to provide a safe environment.”

    Given how much the global pandemic has turned the industry on its head, the future of fabrics is still uncertain. However, it is obvious that suppliers are ready for whatever may happen, whether that be lighter colours, anti-microbial seats, or cleaning solutions, all produced with the aim of keeping passengers’ fears at bay.