China Airlines recently unveiled an exclusive look into their new A350 XWB aircraft, coming into service within just a few months. The interiors are, at first glance, carbon copies of the already established 777-300ER (the last of which is just about to be delivered to the carrier), however, in an exclusive TheDesignAir interview with the China Airlines design team, we discover the heart of the new A350 design is far more than skin deep.
CAL has felt obviously felt comfortable with the current LOPA (layout) of the 777. As far as the aircraft’s real estate goes, Business Class, Premium Economy, Economy and the FamilyCouch have all got a fairly similar presence on the A350 floorplan. Business class features 32 seats in a 1 x 2 x 1 seating configuration, there are 31 premium economy seats in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration and 243 economy seats, which include 12 FamilyCouch sets of seats, which turn into a comfortable bed.
The design has evolved from the original 777 concept, and even though it is still headed up by head designer Ray Chen, the A350 has a more contemporary twist on the previous incarnation. “The design is based on four core elements,” state the China Airlines design team. “Culture, commitment, nature and metal.”
The elements become clear to see throughout our interview, with the design team going into detail through every new design flourish. To represent culture, the carrier has adopted the use of a royal blue colour sporadically throughout the cabin. Blue may be the most widely used colour in aviation, but it also has roots in Taiwanese culture and can be seen throughout a variety of reference points within the country. Instead of branding the whole interior, the design team has added an element of surprise here. Headrests when moved reveal the blue, or opening the seat pocket to reveal a blue lined interior.
To be clear, the commitment element of the design is a ‘commitment to service’. This has been achieved by placing a ‘stamp’ in the cabin, found in the occasional plum blossom seat found through the economy cabin – a clever way of breaking up the sea of seats, but also reinforcing the concept that every passenger is valued by the airline. The design team has even weighted the random seating of blossom coloured seats to become more common to the rear of the aircraft, so as walking through gives the sense of the blossom coming into season.
The nature elements are the most familiar, with the persimmon wood veneers appearing again as bulkheads, tray tables and finishing touches throughout the cabin. The wood in Taiwanese culture reflects a ‘persistent prosperity’ which doesn’t naturally translate outside of Asian culture, however, its distinct grain creates the iconic and instantly recognisable interior now synonymous with China Airlines and perhaps the most obvious aesthetic to connect the two new aircraft.
The Metallic element is the newest element to the cabin philosophy, introduced to reflect the “hi-tech” A350 credentials. This means that details within the cabin don’t shy away from metallic finishes, such as personal lamps tray table catches or mini pop-up cocktail trays in premium economy – this is about changing the unexpected though, and the finishes are purposeful, rather than just leaving aluminium elements exposed within the aircraft.
“The 777 reflects a more cultural and creative environment, while the A350 has a more lifestyle and trend based cabin” state a very passionate China Airlines on the clear differentiation between the two cabin concepts. It is understandable why the carrier is so passionate, there has been a significant amount of research into reflecting Taiwan in the cabin design. 58% of Taiwan is covered in forest, so the introduction of wooden veneer does more than create an impact – it tells a story to foreigners, as well as feeling familiar to local travellers.
While the Business Class (B/E Aerospace Super Diamond) and Premium economy class hard products are pretty much identical to the 777, there are noticeable differences. There are new seat fabrics, a ‘Dragon Claw’ table lamp in business class representing ‘Oriental culture and elegance’ and a new vanity mirror hidden in one of the seat compartments. We also love the removal of the airbag from the seatbelt, a cumbersome affair in the 777 (which has been now located in the shell in the seat in front).
Within Premium economy the seats offer different shades of grey on the inside and exterior of the shell and also feature metallic finishes. The economy seats are all new, and being an A350 in a 3 x 3 x 3 format, offer increased seat width compared to the 777-300ER cabin.
Looking to the floor, throughout the cabin is a specially commissioned abstract print graphic of the persimmon wood, which acts as a motif on the carpet of the aircraft as well as appearing on the hard shells of the business class seats.
Like In all business classes around the world, the biggest differences can be seen at the front of the plane. The ceiling has been lifted through the removal of the central overhead bins enhancing the illusion of a more residential space in the sky.
The A350 doesn’t have the same space as the 777 within the entrance way, and as such the walk up Sky Lounge doesn’t have the same real estate, so a more compact Lounge has been created, although the space still serves the same library, snack and drink concept as found on the larger cousin. The airline has also accepted the small design flaws from the first incarnation of the NextGen product, and has addressed the design issues in the reflective wall panels in the entrance area. The hidden poems found in the wall panels have more contrast, so the words are more visible, and there will also be a new branded panel infront of the entrance door, washed with a directional light to increase the residential feel.
For those who can’t afford business class, there is also a wealth of improvements. New economy class seats offer increased space around the knees through the repositioning of the literature pocket away from the knee area and smaller IFE boxes and aligned seat architecture means foot space for each seat is increased too – and the fact this is an A350 means passengers can enjoy an 18” seat width guarantee, which means the SkyCouch now offers an extra few inches of bed length.
China Airlines has proved that is has not only established a industry leading product on the 777 but developed and evolved an equally impressive product on their new A350. Stay tuned, as we will reveal more on the product when the aircraft is delivered in a few months time.