Air Transport World

Bedecking the tube. (designing airline passenger cabins)

Cabins are more alike than not. Will tomorrow's passenger be dazzled by change, or will change be just another sculptured ceiling?

A 1960 traveler snatched from a seat in a first-generation 707/DC-8/Caravelle and dropped into most current narrow-bodies would notice few profound differences. Sure, the hatracks would be enclosed baggage compartments and the lighting, seating and interior design would be more refined but over all, he'd see the same tube/seat combination that can trace its roots to the DC-3. Little has been added to ease the journey.

The same can be said in comparing the first widebodies with today's offerings. For although the vanguard of the in-flight-entertainment revolution is visible in the proliferation of video-projection movies and electric headsets, these advances are countered by removal of the lounges that made the first widebodies such delights. So better in-seat entertainment but an overall entertainment loss, more seats and more people.

Aerodynamics and economics are to blame, of course. Fuselage sizes and shapes are held in thrall to the laws of aerodynamics. Look at the "major advance" in fuselage design represented by the Airbus A320 and Boeing 777 fuselages-several additional inches in diameter over the closest competitors. The range of amenities is limited by airlines' needs to maximize the revenue potential of a limited space. Look at break-even load factors climbing well above 60% in hotly contested markets.

But the designers keep trying to innovate and passengers are on their side.

These efforts seek to address the service/comfort/fun complex of passenger wants and needs. These wants and needs rise on a steep curve as en route or total-trip times increase, for despite the exciting promise of a new supersonic transport, most of us will continue to cruise at Mach 0. …

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