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Airlines are working to become smarter by using big data and analytics in all aspects of their business. But surprisingly, there’s not a whole lot of data about how the inside of the cabin is used.

Airbus is trying to fix that with its “Connected Cabin” concept it displayed at the APEX Expo in Boston on Tuesday. Connected Cabin will link different elements of the cabin like seats, galleys and lavatories to a central data collection system, explained Ingo Wuggetzer, Airbus’ vice president of cabin marketing. The concept is still being tested, so don’t expect it to be on your next commercial flight.

The smart cabin will collect data wirelessly and monitor different parts of the cabin in real time. For instance, the galley will have sensors that can tell how many drinks are left on board or if all of the cooking equipment is locked in place for takeoff. Right now many of these things have to be checked manually — meaning this could be a huge time saver for crew and could help aircraft turn around quicker. Some equipment could even be controlled remotely, like warming up a pot of coffee.

In the Connected Cabin, flight crew have access to an integrated ordering system, notifying them if someone ordered food or beverage, and then keeping that data on the passenger to better personalize their experience in the future.

In the past, if an airline wanted to know how often people used the lavatories, they’d have to put an employee in a nearby seat and have them count how many people went in and out throughout the flight. Airbus says that when carriers know more about how their airline operates they can reduce cost and increase revenue. Passengers may experience lesser delays if the catering crew is automatically notified that an outbound aircraft will need extra meals on its next flight.

Airbus wants the technology to be integrated into every part of an aircraft’s cabin like the cargo hold, IFE, overhead bins and even the seats. Airbus worked with seat manufacturer Recaro to create a smart seat that’s integrated into the Connected Cabin.

The seats work to display some incredibly detailed information about how passengers spend time in their seats. The connected cabin tablet, using the iSeat program, displays who’s in each seat, if it’s occupied, whether the armrests are up or down, if the seatback table is in use and if passengers are reclined or not. When an attendee demoed the seat, it turned yellow almost immediately, indicating that it was occupied.

Data like this could lead to all sorts of possibilities. If an airline knows that passengers rarely recline on flights of less than an hour, then it may place aircraft with seats that recline less on routes where it thinks travelers would tolerate it.

Safety checks have been streamlined, too. Alongside Fujitsu, Airbus recently introduced a scanner that reads an RFID chip attached to different aircraft safety items like oxygen tanks and life vests. Crew and maintenance workers only have to go up and down the aisles and point the scanner gun at the seats, which can collect all the data they need on an A350’s business-class cabin in just 15 seconds, an Airbus rep explained.

The device’s display will turn seats green if safety standards are up to par, yellow if there may be soon be an issue and red if the safety device has to be replaced.

Connected Cabin will be completely integrated with Skywise, Airbus’ big data platform that’s used to predict maintenance issues and analyze fleet operations, among other functions.

All images by the author.

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