Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Airbus develops modular cabin for widebodies

Conceptual modular experience being loaded onto a Transpose-enabled aircraft.

Airbus’s Silicon Valley outpost is developing a modular cabin for wide-body freighter aircraft that will provide new types of passenger experience that can generate additional revenue for airlines while making it quicker and easier to change cabins, even between flights.

Through its Silicon Valley outpost A3 [A-CUBED], Airbus plans to develop and flight-test a cabin architecture that allows aircraft interiors to be rapidly and flexibly configured using modules that are pre-equipped by airlines or partners with options ranging from sleeping bunks to a soundproofed playroom.

A3’s Transpose concept is aimed initially at equipping wide-body freighters with modular interiors as they come off the assembly line but, if the idea catches on with passengers and airlines, future aircraft could have the reconfigurability designed in, project executive Jason Chua said.

Under Transpose—previously codenamed Project Picard—the modular cabin architecture is an enabler for providing passengers with new inflight experiences and airlines with not only new revenue streams, but also the ability to customize their cabins more easily and change them more frequently.

Previous attempts to enable reconfigurable interiors have foundered on the complex integration of the cabin with the aircraft’s systems. “Even moving a bathroom forward or backward a few feet can kick off extensive structural engineering and testing work … [and] time-intensive regulatory procedures,” Chua said. “What makes Transpose different is that we don’t require a completely new kind of aircraft of the fundamental redesign of airport infrastructure.”

Large freighters provide an “already modular, Spartan platform” that enables passenger support systems to be redesigned “from the ground up to be more flexible, enabling them to be connected and disconnected easily.”

A3 will produce an extensive set of design rules module developers must follow to be compatible with the aircraft, and sees galley suppliers developing flight-ready kitchen and restaurant modules, or seat makers providing bunk modules than are installed for long-haul flights, then removed for short trips.

“We are designing for maximum interchangeability,” Chua said.

The module’s shell complies with all structural and system-integration requirements. Suppliers can the equip the inside of the module as desired—with seats, booths, bunks, a gym or children’s play area, for example.

Suitable freighter configurations retain the exits and other features required for passenger safety. Pre-equipped modules are installed via the cargo door and locked to the seat rails. The reinforced cargo floor carries the loads. A lack of windows does not concern Chua, who points to advances in organic light-emitting diode displays that can be used to provide video walls in place of windows.

A3 is building a 150-ft.-long cabin mock-up with a couple of modules inside that will be able to simulate flight and which will be used to perform system integration and to demonstrate the concept. The next step will be to fly the modular interior, which is planned within the next three years, he said.

“Wide-body freighters allow us to get reconfigurability in a relatively near-term timeline,” Chua said. “The business case is based on using an existing aircraft as the basic platform so we can execute the project without a clean-sheet aircraft development program.”

(Graham Warwick - Aviation Week / ATWOnline News)

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