In-Flight Wi-Fi Explosion Tops Airline Trends

A massive expansion of in-flight Wi-Fi and strategic use of accent lighting throughout cabins are among the top airline trends, suggests a short list of submissions for the 2016 Crystal Cabin Awards.

The awards, which have been given out annually since 2007, are the only international prizes for excellence in aircraft interior innovation, and are intended to initiate a significant improvement in passenger comfort. This year, 98 entries were submitted from 18 countries, and 78 made the short list. Based on the nature of the entries, Skift identified seven major trends in the airline industry.

-In-Flight Entertainment manufacturers are increasing airline options: More innovations could soon emerge, following such products as the iPAX by Lumexis wireless IFE system, which offers passengers a selection of high-definition entertainment on thin, light-weight seat-back screens. Such new aircraft products will continue to compete with the rapid growth of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) entertainment devices.

-Wi-Fi continues to expand and improve: Several airlines have been upgrading aircraft to third-generation of in-flight Wi-Fi, progressing from “basic” to “better” and now “best,” according to Routehappy’s State of In-Flight Survey, which also found that many more non-U.S. airlines now have substantial Wi-Fi offerings.

-Innovative device-charging is emerging: Concepts are being developed that will facilitate charging of devices on surfaces, without the needs of cables of plugs. This will become all the more important as BYOD entertainment continues to require more power, since cables and plugs can be a nuisance.

-Virtual reality headsets could take off: They offer a personal immersive entertainment experience that neither personal electronic devices nor in-seat entertainment systems can match. These virtual reality items are not carry-on friendly, however, and tests suggest that prolonged use of them can cause nausea and headache

-Airlines are evolving from basic mood lighting to accent lighting: Boeing engineers are looking to enhance the passenger cabin experience with strategic use of accent lighting throughout the cabin. They’re also developing projections of light and imagery on the ceiling, walls and bulkheads. Future aircraft could project starry nights on the ceiling to help passengers sleep at night or sunny, blue skies during the day.

-New 3-D printing technology will revolutionize manufacturing: Airbus already is using additive layer manufacturing—involving  3-D printers producing prototypes and series components—on some of its jetliners, resulting in shorter lead times, fewer materials used during production and a significant reduction in the environmental footprint left by the manufacturing process. And the possible applications for aviation components will keep growing.

-Cabins might become more comfortable: Airlines’ concerns about profit margins aren’t likely to allow for increasing passenger space, but companies such as Airbus are considering designs that could better use available space. Some proposals require radical structural redesigns, while others would tear traditional airline service models down to build better ones. In one model, a traditional nine-across seating configuration is transformed into a section with two rows of triples, which can be further separated by movable tide breaks and noise-canceling hoods to create ad-hoc spaces. On the other side of a divider panel, which lets in plenty of light, three seats are divided by a row, making room for couples and passengers traveling alone.

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