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This week, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig is exploring the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, Germany, where he had a chance to check out a mock-up of Airbus’ Airspace cabin on the brand new A330neo.
Airbus has been working on its next-generation A330neo for quite some time now, with the program first announced at the Farnborough Air Show in 2014. Like with the latest A320, neo stands for New Engine Option, and the A330neo represents a huge step up in fuel efficiency, with a reported 14% improvement in fuel burn per seat. While fuel cost isn’t nearly as much of a concern for airlines as it once was, the neo will still offer significant savings, reducing emissions at the same time.
The A330neo will also ship with Airbus’ new Airspace cabin, an even more high-tech version of what you’ll find in the A350 (the new Airspace will be an option for future A350 orders as well). Passengers can expect to find perks like quieter in-flight conditions (Airbus says it’s 50% quieter than the Dreamliner), germ-fighting lavatories, much more storage for bags, LED accent lighting and, of course, the latest in-flight entertainment options.
While the planes are now in production, we’re still more than a year away from the first airline flight with launch partner TAP Portugal, which currently operates a fleet of aging A330s on long-haul routes. In the meantime, Airbus has more or less finalized its cabin design, showing off Airspace to airline customers at AIX. And we got to stop by for a tour:
The mock-up cabin on display was broken up into three cabins: Business class, premium economy and coach. Airbus designed the cabin to create a “love at first sight” impression with entering passengers — it’s definitely striking.
One design highlight is the interchangeable light panels, such as this one up above.
Airlines can create their own design, which can easily be swapped into the ceiling.
These custom panels can either be laser-cut or 3D-printed — both options are relatively inexpensive, making it easy for airlines to add custom design elements without a significant investment.
Airbus designed the cabin to create a feeling of space (hence the name). It does feel roomy, thanks to the lighting effects and higher ceilings throughout. Speaking of lighting, airlines can choose from any of 16 million colors — they’re not stuck with the blue and purple configuration you see in these photos.
The A330neo has an entirely new bin design, making it possible to accommodate 66% more carry-on bags.
The bin doors are curved while the handles follow a straight line. Apparently Airbus has received feedback that straight lines convey quality, so the manufacturer has done away with its curved handles here.
The lavatories have also been completely overhauled, with mood lighting, anti-bacterial surfaces, an “aroma dispenser” and touchless controls on the toilet, sink and garbage bin.
While the “real” economy seats likely won’t be much different from what we saw in the mock-up (from a functionality perspective), the business-class seats are an entirely different story.
Airbus had sample business seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, which is likely the layout carriers will select. However, the seats themselves are strictly for illustrative purposes.
Launch partner TAP, for example, has announced that it plans to use a seat from Recaro called the CL6710, which actually made its first appearance at this same trade show back in 2014. It’s a staggered lie-flat seat, similar to what you’ll find on many airlines, such as my recent Garuda Indonesia flight from Bali to Tokyo — though the CL6710 appears to be an improvement over that seat.
The A330neo will be a huge step up from TAP’s existing A330 in both cabins. For example, the airline’s current business class is angle-flat (on most aircraft), so the Recaro seat will be a very welcome change. TAP operates its A330s on flights between Lisbon and Porto and the United States, so I imagine the A330neo will replace those planes on key routes.
Just behind the A330neo’s entrance is a small premium economy cabin.
Premium economy is optional, of course. For example, TAP has opted to install regular economy seats plus a section of extra-legroom seats, rather than offering an additional cabin between business and coach.
If airlines choose to install premium economy seats, they’ll probably be quite a bit wider than coach — think domestic first class on flights within the US.
The demo seats reminded me a bit of what Norwegian has installed on its Dreamliners. Airlines will likely opt for leather seats instead of the cloth Airbus used here, which can be tricky to clean. Airbus had premium economy seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, making them a bit wider than what you’ll find in coach.
Located just behind premium economy were two rows of regular coach seats.
The cabin mock-up was quite a bit shorter than what you’ll find on a real plane — the extra seats up above are simply painted onto the wall.
Airbus is firmly advising airlines to install seats that are a minimum of 18 inches wide, allowing passengers enough shoulder space to sit comfortably.
Airbus believes that seat width is far more important than pitch — if given a choice between having a wide seat or one with extra legroom, passengers would prefer width, apparently.
An 18-inch width matches what many carriers currently have installed on this aircraft type, including Delta, which operates a fleet of A330s on international flights. These demo seats still had a fair amount of legroom, but certainly nothing to write home about.
Of course, airlines will likely opt to install the latest IFE in their A330neo aircraft, but it’s up to them to make that pick. Either way, Airbus said that it’s important for in-flight entertainment to be built entirely into the seat back (as many recent devices are) to avoid taking up precious floor space.
Airbus Airspace is definitely the most high-end commercial cabin offering to date. It’s going to be a pleasure to fly when it launches next year — while passengers are unlikely to go out of their way to fly the A330 now, Airbus hopes that’ll change with the introduction of the A330neo.
What do you think of Airbus Airspace?
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