French aircraft manufacturer Airbus has partnered with Zodiac Aerospace to overhaul the cargo holds of planes, turning them into rest zones for economy passengers with bunk beds on the lower deck. Mock-ups also propose areas for children to play in, people to work, drink at a bar, have meetings, watch movies and visit a doctor.
The really clever part is the fact that these various rooms would come in modular form so they would simply be loaded on to the plane fully furnished before a flight, depending how much cargo space had been sold on that particular route. Once they get to their destination, they can be removed or switched around. If the return journey is a night flight, for example, they might swap the office set-ups for more sleeping berths.Airbus says: “The new passenger modules will be easily interchangeable with regular cargo containers during a typical turnaround if required. Moreover, the aircraft’s cargo floor and cargo loading system will not be affected at all, as the passenger module will sit directly on it.”
These lifestyle modules could first start flying on the A330 aircraft in 2020, with sleeper compartments on the A350 XWB also being considered. A statement says that “the innovation builds on both Airbus and Zodiac Aerospace’s experience in producing and integrating lower-deck crew-rest facilities”.
Christophe Bernardini, chief executive officer of Zodiac Aerospace Cabin Branch, says: “We are delighted to work with Airbus on this new and innovative project, which reaffirms our expertise in lower-deck solutions. An improved passenger experience is today a key element of differentiation for airlines.”Geoff Pinner, head of Airbus cabin and cargo programme, says: “This approach to commercial air travel is a step change towards passenger comfort. We have already received very positive feedback from several airlines on our first mock-ups. We are pleased to partner with Zodiac Aerospace on this project which will introduce a new passenger experience and add value for airlines.”
It is not clear how airlines would price access to these facilities, especially if passengers don’t know which modules will be available on the day they are flying. A typical A330 might have 300 economy passengers on board so there wouldn’t be enough space for everyone to go below deck.
Perhaps there will be the option of buying a refundable “below deck” ticket add-on in advance or the chance to upgrade through the in-flight entertainment system once on board, on a first-come first-served basis. With passengers in first and business class luxuriating in ever-more glamorous surroundings, this is exciting news for those travelling long-haul in coach.