Unused aircraft cargo space can be used for virtual reality and other digital experiences: design firm

31 Jan 2019 by Craig Bright
FUCAM On Board Lounge Concept - Credit: Mormedi

Madrid-based design consultancy firm Mormedi has unveiled renderings for a new concept that would enable airlines to repurpose unused cargo spaces on board commercial aircraft into zones offering digital experiences for passengers.

The company showcased the design earlier this week together with the Future Cabin for the Asian Market (FUCAM) consortium, a three-year joint EU-Japan collaborative project headed by Airbus. FUCAM aims to to “revolutionise the flying experience for passengers from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia from 2025 onwards”.

The new concept, known as a “third space”, uses a modular design and is intended to allow carriers to partner with particular brands in order to provide immersive experiences that could include virtual reality, LED screens, projectors and digital mirrors.

Renderings unveiled by the company include a family room with elevated floors and seats, and a sit-down area with passengers donning virtual-reality headsets.

Along with the new “third space” concept, the company also unveiled a lightweight and compact “bench-style” Super Eco Seat, designed for high-density cabins operated by budget carriers.

FUCAM Super Eco Seat Concept - Credit: Mormedi

“We know that Asia-Pacific will be the biggest driver of air travel demand from 2015 to 2035, with more than half of the new passenger traffic coming from the region,” said Jaime Moreno, Mormedi founder and CEO.

“That is why it is so important that we utilise insight-driven and user-centric innovation to create the right product for the key markets of China, Japan, and Southeast Asia.”

There does appear to be some appetite for dedicated experience spaces on board aircraft among travellers in Asia-Pacific. Earlier this week, Qantas revealed that virtual reality zones, exercise spaces and cafes were among the top things passengers wanted to see on board its future ultra long-haul flights between the east coast of Australia and New York and London.

That being said, Mormedi’s modular concept is likely to be a tough sell for airlines, considering the added cost, logistics and aircraft turnaround time such ad hoc spaces would presumably entail.

In Asia-Pacific in particular, cargo forms a significant component of many airlines’ business.

In a recent video explaining why Cathay Pacific doesn’t operate the Airbus A380, passenger network manager Jason Choi noted that smaller aircraft such as its Boeing 777-300ER offer greater cargo space than the superjumbo while also having shorter turnaround times at airports.

Meanwhile, US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing was reported to have been facing a difficult decision regarding how much cargo space to allot to its forthcoming B797 aircraft, with Asian airlines reportedly more keen on the aircraft offering greater cargo space than US-based carriers.

Such preferences for greater cargo space are unlikely to be the result of carriers in Asia-Pacific having an abundance of space below deck that is going unused.

Airlines would also need to decide how, and to whom, they wish to market such spaces, particularly when compared to other potential revenue-increasing alternatives. The concept could, for example, allow airlines to offer a kind of makeshift onboard lounge for premium customers without having to sacrifice existing seating.

However, last year Airbus and UK-based Zodiac Aerospace, now part of aerospace firm Safran, showcased designs for sleeping berths that could fit into the cargo compartments of its A330 and A350 aircraft similarly using a modular system. These would give airlines the ability to sell additional sleeping seats to passengers, directly improving revenue on certain routes.

That being said, Mormedi CEO Moreno appears confident that these new concepts will be viable for airlines.

“It is my belief that the concrete, validated outputs from the FUCAM projects will both maximise passenger satisfaction through accessibility, safety, comfort and connectivity, as well as help airlines maintain high industrial competitiveness and the capability to manage production growth,” Moreno added.

FUCAM comprises multiple industrial and research partners, including Mormedi, Airbus, Cranfield University, Stelia, Jamco, Bertrandt, EASN, and Aalto University.

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