Bernhard Conrad was recently appointed chief technology officer at VIP completions specialist Lufthansa Technik. He spells out his vision of the cabin of the future for Brendan Gallagher
The innovations being seen in today’s VIP cabin are a taste of what’s to come for First Class and business travel years down the line says Bernhard Conrad the new chief technology officer of Lufthansa Technik.
“As the former head of the Lufthansa Technik completions centre I’m very familiar with new technologies for the VIP and business jet sectors,” Conrad says. “Now my job is to be the single point of contact for innovative ideas for the cabin, and the announcement of my appointment at the beginning of the year has already begun to attract some interesting proposals.”
Demonstrations of NICE cabin network with iPod capability for VIP jets and the Bombardier Challenger 300 family
The quietly spoken but impressive German engineer is also responsible for intellectual property rights (IPR). “I’m not in an ivory tower – we aim to make money out of this,” he says. “Some ideas we will realise ourselves, the rest we will sell and then collect licence fees.”
He already presides over a valuable portfolio of technologies, many of them developed or applied by the company’s Innovation Centre in Hamburg. Several are on display here at Booth 1240, including the elegant Ethernet-based NICE cabin network and its recently developed provision for docking passenger iPods and feeding their content to top-of-the line audio and video systems.
The latter is a reflection of what Conrad sees as one of several key trends driving what happens in corporate and VIP cabins – and ultimately aboard airliners. “What VIPs want now, first-class wants tomorrow, followed by business and finally economy,” he remarks. “One of our advantages here is that we can develop technologies in ones and twos on VIP aircraft before translating them to the airline world.”
Conrad believes future cabins will be shaped by developments in personal and home entertainment, connectivity and the need to make flying less physically demanding for passengers by cutting noise and improving air quality.
“Fifty million iPods and the like have been sold so far to all sorts of people,” he says. “Passengers bring their devices on to the aircraft, creating a need to integrate them into cabin systems and to take account of the eventual availability of on-line, on-demand content via broadband links.”
At the same time, Conrad argues, passenger expectations are also conditioned by what they can get in their homes. “Senior corporate and VIP passengers tend to have some extraordinarily capable home theatre systems in their residences,” he says. “The available image quality far exceeds what we can currently do on aircraft, so high-definition TV is definitely coming to aircraft.”
He expects this to be based on new technologies such as organic LED, which makes possible wallpaper-thin screens conforming to the curvature of the cabin wall. And for top-notch audio quality Lufthansa Technik is working with QinetiQ on similarly conformal flat-panel speakers capable of delivering surround-sound.
Tomorrow’s cabin will be completely connected, Conrad has no doubt. Lufthansa Technik’s airline parent has issued a request for proposals to potential suppliers of a satellite broadband air-to-ground service to replace the defunct Connexion by Boeing, which Lufthansa offered successfully to its passengers for nearly two years. “From what I have seen of the possible providers it is certainly technically feasible,” he says. “There’s plenty of capacity available in the Ku-band satellite market, and there are compression techniques now available that were not there two years ago. It’s much more a matter of ensuring that costs can be kept under control.”
Communications inside the cabin will eventually be all-wireless, he believes: “The day of the RJ-45 connector is drawing to a close. WiFi is aviation-approved, and a lot of the devices that passengers carry aboard will soon cease to have a wired connection. At the same time, cellphones and wireless PDAs are merging into one device, and I think that VoIP will ultimately be the right solution for telephony.”
Conrad sees significant room for improvement in the area of cabin noise. “A Boeing 747’s cabin is noisier than the passenger compartment of a Volkswagen Rabbit car,” he says. “There are things that can be done that will cut cabin noise down below the 50dB speech interference level. We’re working on both passive and active noise suppression. The latter relates to our flat-panel speaker technology – my dream is of one device that both suppresses noise and acts as a speaker.”
Lufthansa Technik makes no secret of its desire to handle the world’s first VIP completion of an Airbus A380. During the mega-jumbo’s route-proving flight to New York JFK earlier this year the company had a team of technicians aboard to sample noise levels in various parts of a cabin. “What they learned would allow us to apply passive noise suppression materials in the right places for maximum effect,” Conrad says.
When it comes to improved air quality, Lufthansa Technik pins its hopes on Swedish company CTT Systems’ Cair and Total Drying System products, which LHT has already installed on 10-15 VIP aircraft. “Total Drying System dries the air next to the aircraft skin to solve all the problems associated with condensation, while Cair keeps it as close as close as possible to optimum humidity around passengers,” Conrad explains.
Here at EBACE, Lufthansa Technik is showcasing its completions ideas across a range of airframes from the Bombardier Challenger 300 mid-size bizjet, via the Airbus A318 Elite, all the way up to the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380. It’s a massive canvas for imaginative cabin designers – Bernhard Conrad and his team are working to give them an ever-growing palette of brilliant new technologies.
For more pictures of the Boeing 747, including interior pictures, please click here
Source: Flight Daily News