Airlines need their cabins to be distinctive, economical and comfortable all at the same time. Finding the perfect combination that makes customers say, “This is exactly what we asked for!” has led to the creation of Airspace by Airbus. FORUM discovers how cabin crews helped refine the cabin brand, which promises to provide a better travel experience for passengers, while optimising airline operations.
Travel east by night on board an Airbus jet and the cabin’s LED lighting will mimic the new day breaking beyond the horizon. On the trip home, the LEDs will shine on past dusk, chasing the sun as you head west. There’s no one way of beating jet lag but simulating the natural light at your destination is known to help.
Adopted from the A350 XWB, the ambient lighting is a striking feature of Airspace, which debuts on the A330 New Engine Option when it enters service in late 2017. Airbus’ cabin brand began to take shape in 2015. It was among subjects discussed during a summer round of customer experience team (CET) workshops, which harvest customer feedback to continuously improve Airbus products. Last year, as many before, conversations turned to the cabin.
Striking a balance
How would flight attendants imagine their perfect workplace? “At Airbus we often say, ‘airline in mind, passenger at heart’, but we don’t forget the cabin crew experience,” says Tobias Tamm of the marketing requirements and testing team. “CETs help us get back to basics: improving the details makes for a better whole.
Does luggage fit easily into the bins? Is the crew rest area quiet enough? Does the doorframe design minimise the risk of incidents on opening? Generally, is it easy to feel at home from one Airbus aircraft to another? What could we do better? Let’s ask the people who work on board our aircraft day after day!”
If you put great furniture into a poorly designed apartment you will still have problems living there. Airspace cabins provide a well-designed setting for an airline’s finishing touches.
Airbus has included crew in evaluating the cabin environment and its systems for many years. Unsurprisingly, reachability and accessibility are recurring themes, but they often result in less obvious actions.
Like defining an average ‘anthropometric reference’ for crew members when faced with the diverse body dimensions of cabin staff (try closing a fully-stacked bin if you’re 5’2 tall, or manoeuvring around a fully-loaded galley if you’re 6’2.) Or designing galley locker pins that won’t shut unless the trolleys they contain are properly stowed, and other ‘attention-grabbers’ to ease operations.
Customers at heart
This customer-centric approach allowed Airspace’s innovations to be put through their paces by fleet planners and cabin managers in conjunction with Airbus’ human factor specialists. The hands-on method makes getting things right first time more likely, accelerating entry into service.
“It’s our job to meets everyone’s needs,” says Hans Giesa, head of Airbus’ cabin and cargo human factors team. “Defining clear engineering requirements for those needs is one of our core tasks.”
Human factors is composed of experts in subjects ranging from aeromedicine to human-machine interfaces. They work with a variety of airlines to understand the requirements of business models, from low cost to full service. All have one thing in common: operational efficiency. “Basic user requirements have not changed over the years: space, ergonomics, safety and so on,” says former Lufthansa cabin crew member and cabin operations specialist Friederike Haberland, “but design solutions and in-flight services do change.”
In the end, the degree to which cabin crew comfort is traded for revenue space is the operator’s decision. “Each airline has a different approach dependent on their value drivers,” says Airbus marketeer Nicolas Tschechne. “Airspace places equal emphasis on passenger experience and airline efficiency.”
Cabin operations manager Anne Kerrien, who works with airlines to test new features, describes the cabin as a compromise between an airline’s desires, passenger expectations and engineering challenges. “It’s up to Airbus to make the baseline attractive,” she explains. The better the baseline, the less need for extra options and customisation.
Kerrien points to a simple example. Curves create a greater impression of space than corners. “Think how smooth the Airspace cabin looks,” she says. “To a degree, it’s about perception, because you are always working with a finite space.”
The galley is probably the most important cabin crew work space. “Workload and ergonomics are the criteria on which crew compare aircraft,” Kerrien insists. “They’ll quickly identify anything which adversely affects either. If a new galley configuration makes it awkward to use a coffee maker, it’s a flop.
But if a new waste compactor saves time and creates space, it’s a hit.” The A350 XWB’s aft galley was crew-tested during development. Its spacious layout and generous dimensions create optimised conditions for cabin crew work, and it proved so popular in testing and in service that it was included in Airspace.
The inclusion points to how cross-programme harmonisation works in the cabin, from bigger storage bins to a lower cabin altitude and ambient lighting. There’s commonality right down to the flight attendant panel, providing familiarity just as Airbus cockpits are based on a common design. “We want passengers and crew alike to feel at home whenever they board any Airbus aircraft,” says Tschechne.
Airspace is about creating the perfect space – for each and every airline. In the words of Trey Urbahn, Chief Commercial Officer at Portuguese flag carrier TAP, the first airline to fly the new cabin on its future A330neo fleet, “Airspace is an exciting and flexible canvas onto which we can project our own brand.”
Check out our latest FORUM magazine issue and discover how Airbus is preparing the future of urban mobility transport.Read more