To the chagrin of cramped coach passengers, airplane-cabin design hasn’t
changed signifcantly in decades.
That’s not only because it’s most proft-able for airlines to jam in as many fiers
as possible, but because changing 100
miles of wiring inside a commercial
aircraft is complex, time-consuming,
and very expensive.
But at Airbus’s innovation lab, A3
(pronounced “A-cubed”), designer and
engineer Jason Chua is pursuing a radical idea:
customizable modules that would enable airlines
to reconfgure plane interiors to offer fiers more
options for how they spend their time in the air.
“People value customization, personalization,
and choice. We expect it in all aspects of our life,”
Chua says. Right now, “we don’t have a lot of those
choices when we travel.” Airbus’s concept, called
Transpose, would feature sleeping modules,
business-focused team pods, mini gyms, and
even children’s play areas, with enough seats and
seat belts for departure, landing, and turbulence.
Chua and his team reengineered the area between the aircraft’s shell and its interiors so that
modules can easily be swapped without rewiring.
Chua argues that giving airlines more control
over the number and confguration of seats would
enable them to maximize effciency. For instance,
if there are more business-class passengers on a
particular fight, the airline could add an extra
business-class cabin and replace economy seats
with a coworking area. (A study commissioned
by Transpose suggests that modular cabins could
double proft margins for the airline industry.)
Another business model, he says, would allow
passengers to choose seating options while
booking tickets, paying more for certain arrangements—which could be sponsored by brands in
hospitality, food, entertainment, and wellness.
A recent Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience study
revealed that customers would be willing to pay
35% more than premium economy fares for
Transpose’s increased customization. —KS
A MODULAR AIRPLANE
AIRBUS AND REVERSE
Photograph by Tobias Hutzler