Jet Aviation created this large-cabin interior, featuring a living room and dining area, flat screen television and recessed lighting.

Cabin Comforts 2014

Because the science of flight hasn’t changed, designers must still balance the desire for cabin enhancements with the need to minimize weight. Every ounce they save through creative use of technology adds range and performance to the airplane, helping passengers fly higher, faster and farther. Despite this challenge, more and more of the comforts of home and office have been showing up in business jets. Here are some of the latest ways designers are making the aircraft cabin a more comfortable, productive environment—sometimes while actually reducing weight.

Lighting—Well-thought-out illumination can make a huge impression on passengers, especially in smaller jets. New RGB technology allows for less-direct lighting, such as ceiling spotlights combined with surround lighting, to simulate a much more natural atmosphere and increase the sense of space and comfort. Lighting can even be programmed to suggest dawn, midday and dusk, helping passengers accommodate to changes in their circadian rhythms.

“Everybody is looking for the latest thing to make the cabin more homey and personal,” says Andy Richards, vice president of completions and modifications at Duncan Aviation in Battle Creek, Michigan. But for Richards, a more pleasant atmosphere is only one of LED technology’s benefits. LED lighting weighs less and lasts longer than previous technologies. It also requires far less electrical power, which not only reduces draw on the aircraft’s system but allows lighter-gauge wiring for further weight savings. And where multiple junction boxes and switches used to be required, simpler, lighter and more reliable digital controllers now predominate. Lighting engineers and designers are finding new ways to leverage these weight savings to develop ever more pleasing combinations.

Richards says one system that interior designers increasingly demand is B/E Aerospace’s RGB+W Mood Lighting, which is designed to double the light formerly generated by fluorescents. Using recent advances in LEDs and digital control, the system incorporates more than 16.7 million variations in color.

Emteq, meanwhile, is offering Quasar Full Spectrum, which boasts 32 preset lighting modes, including sunrise and sunset configurations. The dimmable system is meant to help designers accentuate interior fabrics and coverings using white-color programming—the science of evaluating the levels of red, green and blue in a material or fabric and optimizing its appearance by coordinating the blend of colors in lighting. Emteq also touts its upwash and downwash lighting for filling tight spots such as headliners with just the right amount and quality of illumination.

Seats—In 1998, the so-called 16-G seat was born after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) mandated safer, more robust seating for business aircraft. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) followed suit. In the years since, engineers, rather than designers, have been calling the shots when it comes to fabricating attractive, comfortable seats that fulfill the regulatory requirements. That is changing.

These days, designers are developing comfortable seats, then handing them over to the engineers to make them fit safety protocols, according to Cindy Halsey, senior vice president of interior design for Cessna’s Citation jet production. Of course, these designers have access to technology that wasn’t available in 1998, such as new foams, covering materials, pressure-mapping software and modular seating components that can be customized to suit individual customers. Weight savings is another benefit of today’s seats, along with greater flexibility in reclining and berthing capabilities.

In cooperation with BMW Dreamworks, designer Lucio Iaccobucci has introduced a line of executive aircraft seats that takes advantage of recent developments in materials and structures. Iaccobucci’s team used contour control and attention to negative space to convey openness in the design. The seats include a seven-inch deployable leg support and a headrest that incorporates vertical, horizontal and oblique tilting movements for just the right angle of support.

Carpets, Upholstery and Appointments—Recent advances in passive soundproofing not only decrease cabin noise but do so at reduced weight when compared with previous materials and configurations, according to Marc Gallin, director of completions sales and marketing for Jet Aviation. And according to Duncan Aviation’s Andy Richards, the longer the range of a business jet, the more important soundproofing and noise reduction are to the interior designer.

When it comes to aircraft carpets, interior fabrics and cabinetry, considerations include not only design, color matching and weight, but also fireproofing, which the FAA, EASA and other aviation authorities strictly regulate. Interior specialists such as Aerosmith Aviation employ on-site design houses with thousands of fabric, carpet and wood samples and dozens of metal-plating selections.

Duncan’s Andy Richards says the past year has seen advances in the use of manufactured veneers for cabinets and side panels—partly to save weight, but also because of environmental concerns. The most popular woods, such as rosewood and ebony, are becoming endangered. Manufactured veneers for cabinets and side panels are “reconstituted” using less wood to create thinner finishes that are applied to honeycomb composite substrate structures. The result: the look of solid wood at a fraction of the weight. Some of the newer applications use 3D printing to compose seamless, compound shapes in veneers.

And new wood veneers are only part of the story. In the past 12 months, says Richards, List Components & Furniture of Austria has improved its stone veneer process, adding lighter layers of stone to more robust composite honeycomb-based substrates. The resulting increase in weight-bearing strength means designers can use real stone not only for lightweight countertops, but also for flooring in VVIP jets’ entryways, galleys and lavatories. For the first time, it is possible to have real stone floors without compromising the overall weight of the aircraft interior.

Galleys—Passengers may ride on the seats of their pants, but to paraphrase Napoleon, they travel on their stomachs. Preparing gourmet food at 41,000 feet involves challenges. Not only weight and space, but also current requirements, water service and other elements come into play. And as Jet Aviation’s Marc Gallin points out, “Passengers expect the same espresso machine on their jet as they have at home or in their favorite restaurant.”

Duncan’s Andy Richards agrees, placing food preparation near the top of the priority list for long-range jets, right up there with soundproofing. But Richards would like to see specialty appliance makers put their products on a weight-reduction program, especially since, he says, weight reduction and fuel efficiency have been top-of-mind concerns in what he calls the “post-recession” era of cabin design. When it comes to innovation in galley equipment, he says, “There hasn’t been a lot of ‘wow’ factor over the past 12 to 18 months.”

B/E Aerospace is among the companies specializing in designing and refining inflight galleys for business jets, and it produces a full range of food-service equipment, including steam and convection ovens for dry or plumbed galleys. The company maintains its steam ovens weigh less than competitors’ products and offer precision and reliability.

For example, its DX3000 self-contained unit requires no plumbing, making it an excellent candidate for retrofitting a steam oven in a dry galley. The design concentrates on ideal heat distribution for low power consumption as well as optimal cooking, eliminating hot and cold spots often associated with aircraft-style ovens. And B/E Aerospace’s ovens are lightweight and durable.

Software—Cabin-planning software has dramatically improved over the past few years. And there is much more to it than making sure all the pieces physically fit in the puzzle.

Swiss completions specialist RUAG Aviation recently teamed with design house Yasava Flight Couture on the latter’s trademarked Astral design program. Concentrating on long-range, large-cabin business jets such as the Dassault Falcon 7X, Bombardier’s Global Series and the Embraer Lineage 1000, the Astral cabin incorporates logarithms that include “intelligent ergonomics and socio-cultural design parameters.”

Jet Aviation also uses its own proprietary interior-planning software, based on Dassault Systèmes’ Catia program. Catia evaluates not only how materials fit within a given space, but also considers logistical issues, such as access for maintenance. Can a technician reach the component and spin a wrench without having to remove three other parts first? Catia uses computer modeling to illustrate how much room the human needs to perform the task. And the software also helps designers estimate long-term maintenance costs through computerized Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), calculating the anticipated life cycle of every part and the lifetime costs expected to maintain the aircraft. Catia PLM is increasingly being incorporated into other areas of design, including interior fabrications and completion.

Catia v5 (version 5) was the first such computer program to be certified for use in designing an entire aircraft, the Dassault Falcon 7X. “Its successor, Catia v6, is expected to be similarly certified for the design of the newest Falcon, the developmental 5X super midsize twinjet,” says Dassault Falcon spokesman Andrew Ponzoni. No doubt, cabin designers will have Catia v6-based software on their shopping list in the coming years.

Mark Phelps, a New Jersey-based freelance writer and private pilot, author's BJT's Exit column.

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