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Just after arriving in London on the Perth-London inaugural, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce made news by discussing the idea of having sleeping berths and exercise areas in the cargo deck of an aircraft. Now, Airbus and Zodiac have signed a partnership to make that idea a reality by 2020.

Announced in a closed-door ceremony at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, the new product would allow airlines to easily add and remove customizable modules into space otherwise reserved for cargo.

A model of the new cargo compartments was unveiled in Hamburg, Germany this morning.
A model of the new cargo compartments was unveiled in Hamburg, Germany this morning.

For the unveiling, the focus was on the idea of a premium “hotel-like” living space. In the model unveiled in Hamburg, there’s only one six-bed sleeping berth while the other modules are dedicated to dining and working areas. However, airlines could choose from a variety of other modules such as lounges, conference rooms, living rooms, combination work/sleep areas and more.

Designed with ease in mind for crew to swap out on an overnight layover, airlines would have the flexibility to choose between cargo and these new living areas — or between different types of modules — on a day-by-day basis.

Image courtesy of Airbus.
Image courtesy of Airbus.

Geoff Pinner, Airbus’ head of cabin and cargo, said after the unveiling that the airlines will be the ones driving the modular innovation. A premium airline would have the option to arrange their cargo deck into a Residence-like living space for ultra-premium passengers.

On the flip side, airlines could install four modules of sleeping berths to be able to provide beds for 24 passengers. And, if six bunks in a roughly 13-by-8-by-5-foot space isn’t enough, Pinner said that the Airbus/Zodiac partnership could develop an even higher-density sleeping berth option.

Airbus and Zodiac representatives at the unveiling ceremony.

To start out, Airbus is developing the product for the Airbus A330. That’s primarily because there are currently around 150 Airbus A330s that already have lower-deck stairs installed for crew rest areas.

Once development and certification of those modules is complete, the aircraft could be able to immediately add modules via existing cargo doors without any retrofit required to install them. Aircraft that don’t have lower-deck stairs already installed would only be required to undergo a retrofit to add the stairs before modules could be used.

After introducing it for the A330, the next step for the partnership would be to adapt the product for the A350. Understandably, as the A380 program is on and off the brink of shutting down, Airbus isn’t planning to adapt this idea for the superjumbo at this time.

While this is the beginning of an official relationship, Airbus notes that it already has a full-size mock-up of the concept in its Toulouse innovation center. And, it seems that this mock-up has already been visited by a few airlines. In the press release, Pinner is quoted as saying, “We have already received very positive feedback from several airlines on our first mock-ups.” When asked for specifics, he noted that it’s too early to share which airlines have already expressed interest.

There’s one major issue that wasn’t addressed in the unveiling: height. With the cargo deck only able to support a module that’s 5 feet and 4 inches in height, there’s not going to be enough room for most passengers to stand up straight. My assumption is that this is going to be a major factor in airlines opting to go more toward sleeping berths rather than lounges and other premium spaces.

Featured image courtesy of Airbus.

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