By Marisa Garcia
August 12, 2019
Airbus innovation day
Credit: Getty Images

Airplane makers, aircraft interiors manufacturers, and even in-flight caterers are looking at smart ways to make the flying experience far more user-friendly in the very near future.

At Airbus Innovation Days in Toulouse, we were treated to a peek at a self-aware aircraft cabin of 2030.

Load-sensitve overhead storage bins will immediately register when passengers stow luggage, so that passengers won’t have to search around to find a free spot. Light indicators could show the space available at a quick glance, from red for full to amber for partially loaded to green for space available. Flight attendants and gate agents can also see how bins are filling up in real-time with a program on their tablet devices which means no more unpleasant surprises for passengers boarding later. Airlines could also offer pre-booking for overhead bins which would work with smart-tags on luggage to confirm that each passenger’s bags are stored in the space reserved for them.

Aircraft seats will also self-report. Flight attendants will know by checking their tablets what seats are empty, and which passengers don’t have their seatbelts fastened, tray tables up, or seats in the upright position.

All of this will make boarding easier and help keep flights on schedule.

Smart features can also make in-flight dining better. Galleys will be able to track catering storage and use. Airlines can use the data gathered by smart galleys to figure out the most popular items consumed on each flight and improve their menu selection, ensuring passengers always find their favourite snacks and drinks onboard.

The data gathered by smart cabins will also allow independent developers to come up with new ways to make the aircraft more responsive to passengers. Airbus plans to help this along by keeping the smart cabin software platform open source to help people put their brightest ideas forward.

“There will be more choice for passengers, more customized services, and new options,” said Ingo Wuggetzer, Vice President of Cabin Marketing at Airbus. “There are lots of opportunities and ideas that become possible once you have the data from the aircraft. There are a lot of creative people around to design apps; we just do the enabling and then it’s running.”

We’ll see a lot of improvements to flying in the near-term future as more aircraft are connected through satellites and air-to-ground communications.

Pilots will avoid in-flight turbulence with advanced live weather reporting. There will be fewer flight delays with better air traffic management. And more efficient flight routes will help lower aviation’s overall carbon footprint.

Our homes are getting smarter because of advances in technology for environmental controls, appliances and entertainment. Airbus recognizes this will set certain expectations for passenger experience features on airplanes, too. Using sensors, software and connected cabin systems, they want to ensure that the skies keep up with trends on the ground.