We got an exclusive sneak preview of this new Airbus variant and are keeping our fingers crossed that other Indian fliers can experience it soon too.
The Airbus A350 is a long-range, wide-body aircraft that was developed by Airbus and entered service in 2015 with Qatar Airways. As an aircraft, it is the first Airbus aircraft largely made of carbon-fibre reinforced polymer, making it lighter than earlier aircraft which were made of aluminium. The A350 has two variants, the A350-900, and the A350-1000, both capable of flying from India to North America non-stop with over 300 passengers on board.
While the A350 has a lot of technology going for it, what made it the long-range leader was the fact that there is a 25 per cent lower fuel burn and emissions compared to previous generation aircraft. If you have ever dealt with the aviation business, you’d know that the management and accountants will both love these numbers.
It is no surprise then that Airbus has over 900 orders for the A350 and over 50 airlines, including marquee names such as British Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Air France and Virgin Atlantic. This week, Airbus brought one of their A350 aircraft to India to demonstrate it to Indian airline companies in the hope of signing on a customer here as well.
While Airbus demonstrated this aircraft to their potential customers, we got an exclusive trip aboard the second A350 ever made, which is on tour in India all this week. Onboard this aircraft, Airbus is also testing new technologies which will further enhance the customer experience onboard the jet when they become mainstream.
Goodies you can expect
A lot of the new enhancements being driven by Airbus on the A350 aircraft are being driven by the Internet of Things, which has allowed Airbus to connect new cabin technologies onboard the backbone computers of the A350 aircraft. Airbus has become the first aircraft manufacturer to undertake such flight-testing of actual connected cabin innovations (rather than simulations).
Dimmable Windows are finally coming on board an Airbus A350 near you soon. Airbus is testing electronically dimmable windows, which first debuted on the Boeing 787 aircraft. However, Airbus is working with the third generation of the technology which gives over 99.9 per cent blackout when the windows are installed on an aircraft.
However, with Airbus, these windows are going to be an option on the aircraft rather than standard fitting, and airlines can choose to install them instead of standard window shades. For the airline, installing these window shades means they can return all windows to open or closed positions with one tap of a button, rather than individually managing each window.
For passengers, this means they no longer have to balance between open windows to look out and closed windows to escape the light outside. They can just pick a dark level of their comfort and still get a view outside their window as well.
Projection across the cabin ceiling
Remember the stars that used to turn up on the ceiling when the lights went dark on some aircraft? Airbus is working on a bigger version of the same technology with Diehl, where they can install projectors in the cabin.
This could mean important information about various stages of the flight, such as pointing out to the right bins during boarding, destination information on arrival and many other use cases could be projected directly on the overhead luggage bins and aircraft sidewalls, rather than on your inflight IFE.
Internet of Things
IoT is not a buzzword anymore, but a reality around us. Most things we use on a daily basis are turning smart and relaying data. And Airbus is using these concepts to make things better onboard their aircraft. Airbus is experimenting with seat concepts where tiny IoT sensors are fitted into your seat belts and seat backs, and rather than cabin crew having to come over to check if your seats are straightened and your seat belts fastened, they can get all the information on a tablet.
Passengers, meanwhile, can use their own phone to change their seat positions rather than having to fiddle with the seat buttons, etc. Oh, and when the flight is done, if any seat ran into problems, the seat can directly relay this information to the ground maintenance team, who can be ready to fix it on arrival!
Another use of IoT is going to be made with galley services. The galley is where your food and drinks are stowed, and the cabin crew heats up your meals for service. Airbus is attempting to have a lot more information flow around so that crew can directly find out pre-orders and preferences of customers once they are on board. For instance, what if the airline app could tell your crew that you like a cappuccino with a double shot after your meals?
The crew will also know more about the meals that work and those that don’t and over time, rather than wastage of food and dumping it on arrival, airlines will be able to predict better the preferences of customers on each flight. Overall, a win-win.
This one is more for the airlines than the customers. Airbus is working on OLED screens that can be installed in prominent places to relay common information to customers. So, for instance, as you arrive on board, the airline could put up arrows telling you which direction your seat is in and tell you about the duty-free options exclusive to this flight. Not just that, they could also whet your appetite with important information about what your meal could be on the plane.
There is a lot more in the works, but these are some of the cutting-edge features you could expect on your A350 flight in the years ahead. So, for the sake of a great passenger experience, I hope one or the other Indian airline inducts them in their fleet.
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