How to personalise passenger lighting

Mila Passenger Lighting

Recent advances in technology are allowing the personalisation of passenger lighting to fit their individual needs, without intruding into the personal space of others.

Passenger lighting has always been a personal choice to a degree: on/off, dim/bright, point here/point there; but it is this one-dimensional approach to lighting that is evolving rapidly.

“We see airlines focussing on customer experiences and refinement of the passengers’ enjoyment of the journey. Lighting plays an extremely important role within the emotional relationship to the experience and comfort equation,” says Tim Manson, design director – transport at JPA Design.

“Personalisation is increasingly more about providing ambient scenarios, colour, brightness levels and arrangement of lighting, providing passengers with a degree of control within their suite. As with American First, China Eastern, Air France and BA First, we see some good examples of lights that provide an ambient residential glow, rather than a hard-at-work task light.”

Full spectrum 

A recent example of this trend towards full personalisation is Emirates’ new first-class suite for which the airline has allowed greater passenger-driven customisation of light and colour.

“This highlights a common decision of how far to enable passenger adjustments,” says William Harbidge, senior industrial designer at JPA Design.

“Does personalisation benefit the passenger experience if the light colour is detrimental to that phase of the journey? As designers, we very carefully consider the light spectrum to use at each phase. This may be tailored to highlight the seats’ materials, assist the onset of sleep or complement the food. For instance, a bright green light will not help the latter.”

Steve Scover, vice president and general manager of lighting and integrated systems at Rockwell Collins, affirms the importance of complementary lighting:

“The technology can fully accommodate passenger preference, and we are seeing some of our commercial and business jet customers embrace that thinking. Whether it is by a phone application or by customer-based records, the cabin environment can automatically be tuned to the desires of the passenger. Additionally, if a customer desires a warmer colour as opposed to a crisper white or a specific colour, we offer the ability to personalise your space at the touch of a button.”

Personal passenger lighting

In accordance with the trend towards personalised lighting, Astronics PGA develops personal lighting solutions to ensure precise, non-glare light beam dedicated to passenger areas.

“Years of studies in optical solutions allow us to illuminate a dedicated area if needed. We also provide several beam angle options with our product, depending on the airline’s needs in term of seat integration. Mila, designed in conjunction with JPA Design, introduces the Omega Ring concept and offers a contained yet mastered light beam orientation. It is the most intuitive way to precisely control and adjust personal light beams without disturbing other passengers or illuminating the cabin aisle,” says Simon Lesage, Lighting/PCU product line manager at Astronics PGA.

Indeed, it is in the premium section of the cabin – first class in particular – that individually adjustable lighting options are primarily employed: “It is only there that the distances between the individual seats are great enough. Personalised lighting only makes sense when there is sufficient room to prevent disruption to the general cabin ambience,” says Marc Renz, head of business development cabin systems at Diehl Aerospace.

“Lighting is a central design element of a cabin. Not everything that is technically possible today necessarily meets the tastes of branding specialists or industrial designers, nor their requirements in terms of what constitutes a functional cabin. From our viewpoint, airline operators will not want to allow economy class or business class passengers to be able to independently adjust the colour or brightness of overhead lighting, except for reading lights, of course.”

Reading lights are also making it possible to personalise the use of light in all cabin sections, and this is in part thanks to LED technology, as Dr Lauren Fleming, senior research and development scientist at STG Aerospace expounds:

“Our liTeMood LED reading lights improve the reading environment onboard by utilising the directionality of LED lighting to create a unique square light footprint that helps define the passenger space, reinforce boundaries and improve the sense of control.

“It is a lighting solution purposely designed to help and feel better… Historically, aircraft cabins have been fitted with fluorescent/incandescent lighting systems, a multi-directional light source that illuminates the entire cabin.

LED cabin lighting

“Today, lighting has evolved, and now all new-build aircraft are supplied with LED cabin lighting as standard. Lighting is now more adaptive, safer and meets more of our needs than ever. As LED lamps deliver a directional source of lighting they can be used now to create multi-layered and personalised spaces. With the cabin light market worth nearly $1 billion, the industry has witnessed a strong switch from fluorescent to LEDs, which is no longer classed as a trend but as an industry standard.”

Discreet control

When developing new lighting solutions which enable a personalised use of light onboard special attention is paid towards minimising light distribution beyond a passenger’s personal space by following specific design principles.

“In respect to light bleed, we have two principal tools to create a good lighting strategy. Firstly, we aim to consider discreet light sources that minimise hot spots. LED and fibre optic solutions have really helped in this respect. Flexibility and size of lights are becoming easier to design with,” says Manson.

“The second is privacy and placement. How and where the lights are sited in relation to each other and passengers in the cabin are a key design consideration for limiting light bleed. The Mila light designed by JPA Design for Astronics PGA is a good example of discreet lighting. It has a slim profile for easy integration into partitions and a discreet light source with variable dimming levels.”

Of particular interest to minimising disruption is the fine-tuning of the light footprint, so controlling what the light hits. Harbidge affirms: “Aviation lighting has technically progressed a lot in the past few years, with a key area being the introduction of fibre optic light systems. The reduction in overall packaging enables a designer to approach seat lighting to be more passenger-centric and less construction-centric.

“Add to this the refinements to light-beam control, and the outcome is more appropriate and attractive lighting for each scenario… The other major consideration we take into account as designers are the surfaces the lights hit and how the material will minimise (or positively emphasise) the lights’ bounce.

“A negative example is a bright task light glancing across a gloss white table; this will reflect into the cabin, causing a late-night worker to disrupt the ambience. We would solve this with investigations of alternate light placement, surface finishes and how the seat can naturally block the bounce.”

Personalised passenger lighting

Renz concurs: “When developing personal lighting elements such as reading lights, factors such as absolute brightness, colour temperature and a sharply contoured focus for the light beam upon its target surface are the ones that are primarily included. Moreover, the lights must be as simple as possible for passengers to operate in order that the cone of light hits, for example, the reader’s magazine as precisely as possible and not the neighbour’s table.”

“The days of illuminating an entire row by turning on a reading light are a thing of the past, particularly in the economy class cabin,” Scover affirms.

“We utilise the best products that our LED manufacturers offer and we combine them with breakthroughs in lensing technology. This provides a lighting footprint that is vastly better than older technology designs… Spot size, beam artefacts and light spillovers are all specifications that receive a great deal of design attention, thereby improving the passenger experience.”

Fleming says: “liTeMood LED reading lights are our company’s latest example of its approach to human-centric lighting; they have been specially designed to provide a uniform, square light footprint due to their innovative optical design.

“The light is contained within users’ own personal space, with little or no light interrupting those in the neighbouring seats. Importantly, uniform lighting has been found to decrease anxiety, increase ancillary spending, and provides the best reading environment.”

Seamless integration

Despite the importance of allowing passengers a personalised experience in the use of light on board, the fine-tuning of the overall cabin environment remains paramount, and best practices exist to integrate personal lights in a cabin’s overall lighting scheme.

“The selection of different lights available for use in cabins has grown enormously over recent years: ambient lighting, feature lights such as edge lighting, window accent lights and monument lighting permit significantly greater freedom today when developing individual cabin lighting concepts,” says Renz.

“This offers airline operators great potential for raising the perception of their brand through unique passenger lighting schemes. However, individual light sources must be integrated into the overall cabin environment.”

Scover comments: “Lighting to merely illuminate is not our goal. Colour choices and lighting scene selections are very important since they must blend within the cabin seamlessly. We find it equally important to have a command of the technology as it is to understand textures and colours. How those elements interact with the passenger lighting system provides for a holistic approach to the design.”

“We have the ability to simulate interior scenarios and this allows the lighting designers the ability to predict and alter the systemic look of the cabin. The goal is to make the lighting system a seamless part of the cabin experience.”

“There is a real difference between yesterday and today with the advent of what we called ‘flush’ and personal reading lights despite the older snake lights. Today’s trends show more ambient lighting design with more interaction between cabin elements. Mila’s goal is to face this new trend by proposing a colour match feature with the cabin environment thanks to its inner luminous halo. From dusk to dawn, it can follow cabin illumination or be used as a personal branding signature for the airline,” says Lesage.

Manson asserts: “A cabin should be viewed as one entire space; cabin and crew needs should all be taken into account. Getting the mix of function and aesthetics right is crucial to ensure the cabin and suite lighting scenarios work together to define the atmosphere at every stage of the journey. The key to a good design is to allow enough personalisation within the framework of the overall atmospheric ambitions that the airline promotes.”

Harbidge adds: “Thinking about the light effect within the cabin earlier in the design stage allows seats to play a large part in altering the cabin’s ambience. Airlines need to look at harmonising the environment of the cabin and seat for each scenario.”

A passenger’s perception of, and sensitivity to, their environment in the air is far more acute than their perception of things on the ground. Anything that can be done to improve the passengers’ perception onboard can be a significant driver of overall passenger satisfaction with their experience.

“In an enclosed space, like an aircraft cabin, it is crucial that all lighting sources complement each other to deliver a superior consistency of light throughout – a contrast between, say, LED ceiling and sidewall lights against a halogen reading light delivers inconsistencies in light, which ultimately could negatively affect the passengers’ perceptions of the cabin,” concludes Fleming.

It is important that every element of aircraft cabin lighting should not only perform its own task but should also contribute to the overall holistic ambience of the cabin.”

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