INTERIORS: Sector upbeat in wake of downturn

Hamburg
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While the airlines languish in recovery mode following the economic crisis which hit air travel demand so hard in 2009, there is cautious optimism in the air in the interiors sector as the industry assembles in Hamburg for this year's Aircraft Interiors Expo.

Expo organiser Reed Exhibitions' group exhibitions director Ian Crawford says the show will be on a par with 2009 in terms of size and points to the continued importance of interiors for airlines even during a downturn.

"It's one of the areas that can differentiate the airlines. Things are tough in the sector and one of the biggest changes is that business travellers are trading down. That means airlines are having to rethink the layouts and so there is lots of refurbishment [activity]," he says.

"From talking to some of our exhibitors, they are relatively positive. They seem to feel 2010 will be flat, but that flat is the new up, they are expecting in 2011 to start seeing an upturn."

Former Continental Airlines director of project management Vern Alg, industry consultant to Aircraft Interiors Expo, adds: "There's likely to be a constant development in interiors. It might be at a slower pace than in previous years but it's going to be sustained and what's going to drive it is innovation and changes in the marketplace."

Among the drivers of strong interiors activity, Alg cites the heightened pressure for airlines to overhaul any inefficient fleets still in service. He believes these airlines will have to buy or lease newer aircraft and that creates significant opportunities for the interiors supply chain. This is on top of the large backlog of new aircraft deliveries which has been keeping the interiors sector busy over the last couple of years.

The organiser says the exhibition is 95% booked, including more than 30 first-time exhibitors. Around 7,500 to 8,000 unique visitors are expected at the show. "The format works very well, both for the visitors and the exhibitors," adds Crawford. One new addition is the show's first innovation zone.

"We are trying to encourage people to come along with their new innovations for the airline sector," Crawford says. "I think this ties in well with the Crystal Cabin Awards."