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Airlines

Aiming high

aim Altitude is looking to the future with two key developments, as well as being busy with various airline cabin projects. Ian Harbison reports
 

Richard Bower, CEO of AIM Altitude, says that despite the general trend away from first class by many airlines, there are signs of polarisation in the ambitions of flag carriers, with a small number committed to keeping a luxury product. These drive a significant furniture content, which is good for the company. There are some encouraging developments in the progression of first class cabins, for example, Emirates, with its full height suites on the Boeing 777 (see Aircraft Cabin Management, January 2018), as these can result in the competition feeling they have to react.

A downside is that the number of aircraft platforms continue to decline, so if a company is not on the Airbus A350 or Boeing 777X, it will lose access to the volume and value of those markets in the future. This is not just companies like AIM Altitude, he adds, but those involved in seats, overhead bins, lavatories and galleys. All the vendors are chasing that volume and there are signs that those involved in declining programmes, like the A330, are now looking around for new markets. However, while there is a competitive headwind, he says the medium to long term outlook for the company is generally good, as long as deliveries are made on time and there is a developing stream of offerable products.

Two of those products in the stream are ULTRAFLEX and a new galley.


ULTRAFLEX


ULTRAFLEX was introduced at AIX this year and was a finalist in the Visionary Concepts category for the 2019 Crystal Cabin Award. Located in the Door 2 area, the patent-pending concept provides a multifunctional social space for premium passengers on ultra-long haul flights, incorporating wellness, fitness, mobility and stimulation. He says the display at the show was intended as a conversational starting point with customers, which was successful. However, by including every option, it took up the space of 12 to 14 business class seats, so there was never an expectation that an airline would come along and sign up for the whole concept. Instead, he expects to see them use a selection of modules in different combinations according to their own requirements. He adds that it also showcased the company’s capabilities for making bespoke, individually customised furniture.

In the company’s proposed layout, there is a four seat sofa plus two central half height monuments and a long half height monument to the rear. The natural height of the monuments promotes open standing conversation and social interaction over a wider distance but the design also incorporates perch pads. In addition, the monuments provide additional half cart stowage.

Serving the social area is the forward Deli Galley, which has been designed to provide passengers with an extended-height refrigerated display cabinet that offers a more familiar deli-style offering, typically found in a café environment – there is evidence that passengers feel uncomfortable serving themselves in a traditional galley layout. As for the contents of the cabinet, the intent is to offer healthy snacks, light bites and hydration products to counter the effects of extended flight times. The display space can also be offered to outside companies for sponsorship, generating additional revenue streams.
The next part of the concept is two Flex Booth Monuments, each with two seats and a folding table. The booths could be bookable on board from the IFE or in advance online. They could be used for social activities, either with food from Deli Galley or perhaps being reserved for a private dinner service, as well as offering a work space for meetings.

Passenger wellbeing comes into play by folding away the bench seats and table, freeing up the space for exercises such as flight yoga or meditation guides. Semi-private prayer areas can also be created by/for the passenger.

The wellbeing theme continues on the other side of the cabin, where there are three Exercise Stations. Consisting of a table and a stool, low resistance exercises can be performed while working thanks to step plates and a massaging muscle roller, helping blood circulating well and reducing stiffness and discomfort. Exercise-released endorphins should improve mood and lessen fatigue. Screens at each station provide greater privacy than at the seat.

There is still room for fun. The company suggests that the rear section of ULTRAFLEX could be transformed into a pop-up bar for watching live sporting events using a large wall mounted screen (there is a 32in screen in The Loft, manufactured by AIM Altitude for Virgin Atlantic on the Airbus A350-1000).  

The associated rear monument has a central trough where glasses, bottles and food items can be installed in standard containers during the rest of the flight. For a special event, some or all of these can be covered by inserts that slide into place to form a bar surface. Drinks would be dispensed by a flight attendant. A bottle cabinet, usually behind a drop-down screen, is located alongside the screen.

Throughout, the space use has been made of soft padding and wood textures.

More generally, he says airlines are waking up to the possibilities of Door 2, the main entry point for premium passengers. While not going as far as with The Loft (see Aircraft Cabin Management, July 2019), the company is working with a number of operators that are blurring the lines between functional galleys and premium monuments. Some airlines have understood this for a while, for example, in 2016, it provided composite, backlit branding panels for SWISS, for their 777-300ER aircraft. The panels feature an illuminated greeting and world map, as also found in the reception area of the SWISS lounges at Zurich airport. An Autonomous-Lighting-Dimmer (ALD) allows feature lighting to be automatically controlled without any connection to the aircraft IFE system or the cabin mood lighting system.

The original design concept for SWISS came from PriestmanGoode and from Factorydesign for Virgin. He explains that, while the company has good working relationships with all the leading design house, there is a very strong in-house team. It can respond to the ambitions of the designers and the airlines but also ensures the AIM Altitude products to be incorporated are fully functional and easily maintained.

 

GALLEY


At AIX in 2017, the company introduced a new galley concept. Speaking to Aircraft Cabin Management at the time, Bower, then Group Commercial Director, said two major decisions were made. The first was to jump to a next generation type, the Boeing 777X, leaving plenty of time for development. The second was to avoid simply competing on price and introduce a strong aesthetic element in the design, especially as it is intended for that important Door 2 position. The development process has been continuous, with a new evolution appearing at subsequent AIX events, this year being the third-generation version.

Features of the baseline galley included clip-on trim; flush task light; folding footstep; flush pull-out table; removable shelves; full-height pantry; replaceable decor panels; new baseline doors; and a UV filter water dispenser (from International Water Guard). This was followed by fold and stow doors for oven compartments; up-and-over doors; animated RGBW lighting; premium paddle latch doors; and a half-height pantry. The appearance was modified to resemble modern kitchen interiors, to give a premium feel, and doors were developed to hide the galley when not in use.

The latest version shows further refinement, with some of the earlier features having been dropped in response to airline feedback, as well as some new conceptual ideas and product innovations. Production-ready features from previous versions are the premium paddle latches, flush pull-out table and pull-out pantry. Offerable features include task lighting; an insulated ice drawer; the IWG water dispenser; and an improved roller blind. The latter incorporates a newly developed mechanism, focused on robustness, lightness and ease of use. Richard notes that roller blinds tend to be limited to Door 2, as airlines do not need them for forward and aft galleys, which are predominantly crew areas.

Pushing the technology forwards, conceptual features include a Magic Mirror, offering a blank surface but allowing digital signage and IFE to be seen through it; push-in latches that vanish into the door face; and a new animated RGBW lighting system with bespoke programming of light animations – this is concealed behind a semi-translucent laminate, a technique first used on the Upper Class bar on Virgin’s Boeing 787 fleet.

Aside from concepts, the company is heavily involved with volume production of galleys for widebody aircraft and, in September last year, it signed an agreement with Airbus for the development, manufacture, supply and support of galleys and stowages for the A320 Family. These will become available from 2020 to airline customers as SFE, making AIM Altitude a Tier One cabin supplier to Airbus.

Another development area has been front row monuments. Using a modular approach, a single lower half can be supplemented by one of three different upper-half arrangements, including a full height closet, an under-bin closet with branding panel, and a half-height closet with provision for a baby bassinet. The platform uses an internal frame, which remains the same for each installation. The external elements are bespoke, and customised to reflect the unique brand and specific requirements of each individual airline.

The company worked in collaboration with Thompson Aero Seating, a partnership that has become even closer now that the two companies are both owned by AVIC (see box story). The central units have been designed to meet the standard width for Vantage XL seating, while the outboard units have a wider footwell area. The footwells themselves have quickly removeable acoustic linings, with new trim and finish capabilities, including soft raised patterns that can be matched to the 3D laminate design on the vertical surfaces. A branding panel has also been incorporated into the central unit. Each unit has laptop storage in a new ‘glove-box’ option and a deployable tablet stand, so that personal content can be viewed in normal seat mode or in sleep mode. Coat hooks, literature holders, and personal lockers all add to the options. Items are now in production and serial delivery phases as well as engineering and development phases.

Conclusion


Bower says AIM Altitude is best known as a relatively low volume manufacturer of highly customised cabin products but it is much more, as can be seen above. Looking forward, Door 2 activity will continue to develop and change (some projects in work will look nothing like a galley) – and ultra-long range flights – still an emerging and untested market, will see a blurring of the distinction between widebody and narrowbody cabins as widebody features appear on the smaller aircraft.


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