Most people probably remember when Airbus first launched their A380, there was talk about the cargo area being used as an onboard lounge, retail unit or even a restaurant for passengers. Naturally, like many things in aviation, these ideas gradually disappeared and practicality took over. Gone the ideas of having a large retail unit, when cargo could potentially drive more revenue.
However, with some airlines showing a decline in cargo kilometres, the belly of these birds is often not as full as it could be, and what was once a potential revenue earner, is being flown empty.
Along come Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace, who at AIX revealed a new concept for lower deck sleeping facilities. These pods, which could be accessed from the main passenger deck increase the footprint for passenger accommodation, and considering there would be no windows, and passenger evacuation could be an issue, the space is more suited to temporary passenger comfort.
This isn’t just a matter of hypothesis, Airbus wants these additions to be included in catalogue of certified solutions by 2020, starting with the A330. The idea is very clever, these pod-like units are interchangeable, and can be swapped with regular cargo containers during a typical turnaround if required. Moreover, the aircraft’s cargo floor and cargo loading system will not be affected at all, as the passenger module will sit directly on it.
Utilising the cargo space isn’t unheard of, Lufthansa had passenger toilets in the lower deck of the A340 and the space was often utilised for crew rest accommodation too.
Geoff Pinner, Head of Airbus Cabin & Cargo Programme said: “This approach to commercial air travel is a step change towards passenger comfort. We have already received very positive feedback from several airlines on our first mock-ups. We are pleased to partner with Zodiac Aerospace on this project which will introduce a new passenger experience and add value for airlines.”
Interestingly, the manufacturer has released images of differing pod designs. While sleeping accommodation seems like a practical use, for the pods to be worthwhile, passengers would have to pay for the extra service, and would most likely pick business class over economy class plus a bed, meaning the economics could be a stumbling block. Seat manufacturers are also already creating beds out of economy class seats, like the SkyCouch found on Air New Zealand, which are much more cost effective.
That said, there is scope here to increase passenger accommodation on the upper deck. Airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, could shift their onboard bar downstairs, and free up space for more Upper Class or Premium economy seats. Korean Air would probably show interest in shifting their A380 Duty Free shop down to the lower deck to free up more space for economy passengers. There are also ancillary services that could be provided, not currently offered on aircraft, such as a spa space, meeting rooms, even a play area for children, something most parents would shift their choice of airline for.
While we won’t see these come to life for another couple of years (if ever) it shows that innovation, utilisation of space, and ancillary sales are still at the heart of aviation in 2018.