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Trains can add or detach cars at will. Arenas switch from concerts to a hockey game in a few hours. Bridge and tunnel traffic can be reversed in direction multiple times a day.

So why can’t planes change their cabins overnight?

It sounds like a ridiculous question, but researchers at Airbus’ Silicon Valley innovation group are taking it seriously. The outpost — known as A3 — today announced a program called “Transpose,” which would allow airlines to drastically change their cabin interiors in just hours instead of weeks.

The “Transpose” concept uses technology similar to how cargo planes are loaded, with prebuilt modules able to be swapped in and out of the body of the airplane at will. But instead of only having premium and economy sections, airlines and manufacturers could create different environments at will.

Image courtesy of Airbus.
Image courtesy of Airbus.

Lounges, spas, coffee shops, sleeping areas — different modules could be stacked together in any order imaginable. Household brands could even have their own space. Want a McDonald’s on the plane? Just add one.

This may all sound like futuristic fantasy, and it certainly won’t be available on your flight this holiday season. A3’s researchers believe it will be at least 2 to 4 years before they’re able to demonstrate the technology on an actual flightworthy aircraft, and the concept will still have to pass muster with safety regulators.

The real question: How much will it cost? Technology already exists that allows airlines to add flat beds (Lufthansa’s old 747-400 first-class cabin), bars (Virgin Atlantic) and even showers (the Residence on Etihad). But once installed, those are permanent fixtures and only available to premium customers.

However, A3 believes the modular concept could be not only economical, but also add an opportunity to bring in additional revenue. Given that demand can vary drastically across different routes and times of year, an airline that could add more premium seats on one leg, then switch to an all-economy flight for the next, and then swap in an ultra-high class configuration for an exclusive charter might have a major advantage in the marketplace.

Featured image courtesy of Airbus.

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