The path to the impressive new cabin concept Airbus formally unveils next week for the A350 at the Aircraft Interiors Expo 2006 exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, has, like much of the design for its new long-range twinjet, been a slightly hesitant one. While Boeing’s plans for the rival 787 have emerged as a series of “big bangs” – the cabin, for example, in 2003 and the cockpit in 2005 – Airbus has effectively been playing catch-up as it worked to evolve a truly competitive product from the A350’s baseline design – today’s A330.

With the A350’s external fuselage diameter identical to every widebody Airbus (other than the A380) that has gone before it, starting with the original short-haul A300B1 of 1972, initial efforts a year ago centred on increasing the comfort of the cabin through internal tweaks.

Fuselage frame “cuts” and reductions in the thickness of the cabin side panels have increased the clearances at head and shoulder level for window seat passengers by 38mm (1.5in) over the A330/A340 on each side. Changes to the runner panel position at the floor level have also increased foot space for the window seat passengers.

Having introduced these dimension changes, along with larger bins and “virtual sky” mood lighting projected on the ceiling, Airbus confidently states that the A350’s all-new cabin is roomier and provides better comfort than the 787’s. But with Boeing having designed the 787 cabin to create a unique flying experience for all classes of passengers from the moment they step aboard, there was pressure from customers for Airbus to try harder.

So in the latter part of last year Airbus enlisted the help of the ergonomic design arm of German automotive giant BMW to further enhance the A350 cabin, with the results to be unveiled next week.

“There are new lighting features and shaping in the cabin,” says A350 chief engineer Dougie Hunter, adding that an example is a concept around the Door 2 area, which has a bar and seating for economy. “In the entrance area there is a dome that gives us the feeling of spaciousness or openness in the cabin and configured for whatever mood you want to generate,” he says.

Hunter says that the A350’s new cabin will also include new levels of flexibility for an Airbus pre-delivery and post-delivery in-cabin reconfiguration. “We have put some reconfiguration enablers in place,” says Hunter – common fixture points; seat interfaces and connections; flexible system ports and intelligent fastener technology.

These features will allow for overnight partial reconfigurations within the various flexible zones defined on the aircraft, says Hunter. “We can push monuments backwards or forwards to increase the size of the business cabin and reduce the economy cabin, for example.” He adds that a complete change of configuration, for example from a three-class to a two-class cabin, is aimed to be completed easily within a C-check period – around five days.

Another new flexibility option is the “derating” of the two Door 3s (the exits aft of the trailing edge) on the A350-900 to a smaller dimension, says Hunter. This will allow for more configuration flexibility in this area if the number of passengers is reduced.


Source: Flight International