Aircraft window shades could change our flight experience

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Jennifer Coutts Clay is like the Nostradamus of cabin interiors. On page 68 of her book, Jetliner Cabins, Clay predicted that cabin window shades of tomorrow might well be electric-powered.

Shade 1.jpg

“At the touch of a button, passengers will be able to choose how much outside light they would like to let in – all, or none, or various amounts in between,” she wrote. “And this system will permit airlines to customize their aircraft interiors in ways that were previously not possible.”

The book was first published in 2003. Fast-forward to today and a company called Aerospace Technologies Group is providing electro-mechanical shades to the world’s top-tier carriers.

Qantas was the first carrier to launch the shades on a brand new aircraft, its Airbus A380s. But other carriers are quickly bringing the mechanism onboard (I’m just not at liberty to tell you who, yet).

Passengers can control the shades adjacent to their particular seat from a single switch as well as a switch mounted on the sidewall. All shades in the cabin are also controlled from the Flight Attendant Panel [FAP] and can be locked in the full open position for takeoff and landing.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the most powerful. “Many people do not realize that the aircraft window-shades we are all accustomed to seeing i.e. those plain surfaces with manual pull-down handles, have been operating in the same old way for decades!  The new-style electric-powered window-shades…now flying on Qantas Airbus A380 aircraft, represent a major advance,” says Clay.

“Eventually manually operated pull-down window-shades will be classed as old-fashioned.”

Shade 2.jpg

But what might the NEXT stage in shading be?  How about electric-powered window-shades displaying customized advertising programs, suggests Clay.

The new technology of today might lead to further developments on this front. “Because the new electric-powered window-shades are protected from personal impact or touching, airline designers will safely be able to use the surfaces to display decorative patterns such as: clouds, palm trees, sombreros, flags etc., or airline corporate identity emblems, or revenue-generating advertising information,” she says.

“Or, between the ‘window-panes’, might it be possible to install several drop-down window-shade surfaces, as used for back-cloths at theatres, that could be controlled automatically, or by cabin crew, to display an organized sequence of design displays?”

In recent years we have seen advertising material on everything from aircraft menu covers and meal-tray liners, to paper cocktail napkins, motion sickness bags, and the lids of overhead stowage bins. Heck, Spirit Airlines is selling advertisements on its napkins, drink carts, lavatories, rugs and flight attendant aprons.

Says Clay: “Next on the list?  Why not electric-powered window-shades?”

Such an idea might not be on ATG’s drawing board just yet. “Bottom line, to change the colour, one must change the shade,” says Ford Chown, a consultant that works with ATG.

But with cash-strapped carriers now feverish to bring in new revenue streams, I wouldn’t count it out.

(Photos courtesy of ATG)

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10 Responses to Aircraft window shades could change our flight experience

  1. LeeZ March 5, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    That surprises me that companies are so interested in this. You’d think that moving parts (a motor, I assume some sort of pully, etc) would just make things more complicated and make for another thing to break, versus the molded plastic shade on a track.

    Furthermore, it surprises me more that folks aren’t going the route Boeing is taking with the electronic LCD-film windows like we’ll see in the 787.

  2. Mary Kirby March 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

    Thanks for you comment. Here is what Ford has to say in response to your question:
    “The 28V DC motors have proven reliability and there are no pulleys. It is the visual esthetics that attracts the customer. The pleated shade is so much more attractive than the old plastic slider or the “black hole” provided by the electrochromic shade design. The appeal of the ATG shade is the customization and the enhancement of the aircraft interior d├ęcor.”

  3. jbzoom March 7, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    It would be interesting if you or flightblogger could get an update on the status of the 787 electrochromatic blinds (are they another work-in-progress?). Also, any news of the SPD windows Hawker Beechcraft were experimenting with.

  4. Mary Kirby March 7, 2009 at 8:47 am #

    A hybrid approach, combining the two (electrochromic and electro-mechanical) would make a lot of sense for new-aircraft programmes (A350?). I’ve got nada on Hawker, but your request on a 787 blinds update is most duly noted.

  5. Ted March 9, 2009 at 7:19 pm #

    Hawker Beechcraft has electronic window shades for sale on its website. This shade uses SPD (suspended particle device) technology that enables a window to go from clear to dark or anywhere in between with the touch of a button. Unlike the electrochomic technology being used by the Boeing 787, this swithes from clear to dark (and back) in 1-2 seconds.

    I saw an article in the NY Times about the Qantas A380. The author, Paul Goldberger is an architect and Pulitzer Prize winner who wrote the article for the Times. He was awed by the window in the lavatory which went from dark to clear as soon as the door was shut, enabling one to see outside from 30,000 feet. This was an electronic window shade…no pull down shade or motorized shade, like ATG’s.

    You can check out the “electronic window shades” by going to Then click on the “buy parts” link, which then takes you to the RAPID page. Once there, you’ll see a box in the center of the page that changes from “Heated Seats” to “Free Shipping” to “Secure your investment” to “Electronic Window Shades”. The total time sequence to see all four is 20 seconds. You can “click here to learn more” and see the specs for the SPD shades. It’s appears to be a great technology, which could replace motorized and pull down shades because the electronic shades are lighter, thus saving fuel, have no moving parts, and permit the light level to be finely tuned just like you’d do with a dimmer swith in your dining room.

    Let me know what you think of this technology.

    Thanks, and have a great week.

    Ted Campbell

  6. Ted March 9, 2009 at 8:07 pm #

    A quick follow up to my last comment. The SPD “smart glass” technology I wrote about was used for over 60 partions and windows at the University of Indiana’s “Health Information and Translational Sciences” building. Here’s the link to the press release.

    There’s an explantion of the technology there as well as comments from IU officials, and pictures. Check it out, Mary.

  7. Mary Kirby March 9, 2009 at 10:36 pm #

    Ted, you kick ass. Way to sell the product. Let’s write a proper blog about this!!!!

  8. Ted March 9, 2009 at 10:46 pm #

    I’m “all in”, Mary.

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