APEX Educational Event: The Onboard Experience

How are aircraft cabins changing? How can passengers interface their own electronic devices with IFE? How will they power them? And what does the future hold for passengers?

These were just some of the questions posed at the APEX (Airline Passenger Experience) Educational Event held at the Radisson Blu Hotel on the eve of the Aircraft Interiors Exhibition 2012 in Hamburg on Monday 26th March.

Speakers, included Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus VP cabin innovation and design; Anais Marzo da Costa, Airbus aircraft interiors marketing director; Charles Chambers, Panasonic’s product manager, and Aristides Cintra, Embraer principal systems engineer.

Sessions included presentations on cabin trends and passenger expectations, consumer devices, in-seat power, mood lighting, IFE integration and more.

The first session looked at cabin-specific trends. Ingo Wuggetzer from Airbus noted that passengers are getting older. He said that by 2025 the majority of passengers will be over 55. They have money, will be more mobile – but also fatter. Wuggetzer remarked that larger seats might be helpful in future, but more food won’t!

Overall, interest in green travel and healthy eating is rising, so we need to create a greener flying experience.

Wuggetzer added that airborne connectivity will become a $1bn business – only 20% of airlines have invested so far. Other developments might include onboard virtual reality – 3D videos and shopping from the seat – perhaps all controlled from the passenger’s personal electronic device (PED).

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The Airbus concept cabin for 2050 (above) includes a "vitalising zone" with a 360-degree view, morphing seats that adjust to your body, a holographic meeting zone and a "sound shower". The view out of the window will include augmented reality to enhance the experience.

The session on "Consumer Devices in the Air" had a panel of six industry experts. Their conclusion was that wireless distribution was the way forward, and it has to be seamless and easy to use. Lufthansa’s Joerg Liebe said that passengers like to use their own devices, so streaming to seat back screens and personal devices is key.

Howard Lefkowitz of Row 44 noted that everyone is different and you have to be customer-centric. He observed that the issue of digital rights management (DRM) in terms of licensing for movies is a thorny one – stopping passengers copying movies is crucial, he said. He added that Row 44 is to start streaming live TV to aircraft, including US sport, "imminently".

The issue of streaming hundreds of different movies to different devices is a big one. But the airlines are asking if there are any guarantees that getting rid of back-seat TVs is viable. It will be some time before WiFi can take over from a wired solution.

Neil James of Panasonic added that the move to the Android OS for seat-back IFE is paving the way for internet connectivity.

According to recent industry studies, more than two-thirds of commercial air passengers now bring at least one type of electronic device with them. In the session on in-seat power, Dennis Markert of Astronics Advanced Electronic Systems explained that you only have to look at the scores of people charging their laptops and devices in a departure lounge to see that inflight power is now essential.

Markert said that China Airlines research showed that it is ranked more important than WiFi access. Although new laptops may have an eight/ten-hour battery life when new, they do degrade quite quickly. Within a year it could be down to two-three hours, he commented.

Tablets are becoming ubiquitous, Markert added. Seat power demand is increasing and what is emerging is USB charging – the demand is now for up to 2.1A USB as power demands increase. Expect to see more developments in this field, he predicted. Standardising on USB charging would save passengers carrying chargers.

Peter Schetschine of KID-Systeme agreed and said that 110V outlets will remain standard and expect to see more 110V installs in economy class. He added that power demands will continue to increase, with an average laptop needing 80 watts (a new iPad needs about 10 watts).

Markert thought that charging the customer money to access inflight power wasn’t really viable. "Imagine your hotel charging you for electricity," he argued.

In the session on mood lighting, Marc Renz, head of new programs and product strategy, Diehl Aerospace, said lighting was an integral part of the whole cabin experience, along with the food, environment and comfort.

He said the key elements of mood lighting included continuous dimming, colours, light and music and even a "starry sky". Renz added that people are influenced by colour – red means danger, blue can trigger mental relaxation, and violet enhances creativity.

He added that recent PhD research at the University of Wuppertal shows that "chronobiological" based lighting can improve passengers’ relaxation levels and experience, measured in terms of hormone levels, heart rate and their own self reporting.

"Mood lighting is becoming standard," Renz said. "In 2011 the number of mood lighting shipsets overtook white lights."

In the session on the Future of Aviation, the panel looked at where aviation may be in five, 10 or 25 years.

New York-based Sarah DaVanzo of Kaplan Thaler Group said people are beginning to take more interest in their health and their sleep quality, both areas that need attention as part of the passenger experience.

Nicolas Tschechne of Airbus reported that the company’s research shows passengers in the future will want cheaper and greener travel. But they also want it to be more enjoyable. The whole experience must change from what it is today. He said that there is now a blurring of cabin designations and he expects that to increase.

In all, one theme came across loud and clear. There needs to be greater communication between all parties – airframers, IFE and seating providers to make life easier.

The next APEX educational event will be the TV Market Conference in Brighton, UK on 16-18 April 2012.

Steve Nichols, reporter, Inflight
Hamburg, Germany

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