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California dreaming

Transpose is a new concept from an Airbus think tank that offers airlines the ability to quickly change the interiors of their aircraft to meet passenger demands

Transpose has originated from A3, a think tank established in 2015 and located in Silicon Valley. Working on the belief that the future is created through episodic disruptions with intervening periods of incremental innovation, it says its mission is to build the future of flight now, by disrupting Airbus Group and its competitors before someone else does.


The focus is threefold:


  • To demonstrate the technical feasibility of building and operating a modular commercial aircraft cabin system
  • To validate passenger enthusiasm for the new inflight experiences this makes possible
  • To close a business case that makes all of this not only desirable, but feasible – and soon.


Certainly, Transpose is a bold proposition – take a new-build freighter aircraft and use it as a passenger aircraft, with the large cargo door allowing modular cabin sections to be changed quickly and easily to accommodate the demands of the next flight.


Jason Chua, Project Executive of Transpose, suggests, as an example, an afternoon flight landing at San Jose airport. The passengers deplane and within minutes the seats in the cabin are being swapped out for bunks, making the aircraft’s next route – a 12-hour red-eye to Singapore – a far more restful experience for passengers. That same plane could then be used for a short flight to Macau, in which the airline could swap out a sleeper cabin for a spa, ready to service holidaymakers eager to start their travels refreshed.


Chua says it is surprisingly difficult to change aircraft cabin layouts as it stands today. Even moving a lavatory forwards or backwards a few feet can instigate extensive structural engineering and testing work. This seemingly simple modification also triggers important, time intensive, regulatory procedures to ensure safety. In addition, the way aircraft cabins are manufactured and updated is highly integrated with the other onboard systems – water, electric power, hydraulics and IFEC. This is a major reason that airlines change their cabins so infrequently (7-10 years on average), and when they do, it is mostly through conservative and incremental improvements.


There are a number of obvious questions: are there weight penalties from the door, strengthened floor and cargo handling system? The modules need to plug into aircraft systems – so are positions limited for the type of modules envisioned? Would there be an impact on maintenance as accidental damage would increase through transfers? What about the logistics and cost of positioning different modules at different airports?


Martin Sieben, Chief Architect of Transpose at A3, says it is taking a holistic approach, not just focusing on the actual aircraft, but taking into consideration the operational details that are involved in commercial flight and working with airlines, airports, regulators, suppliers and manufacturers on exact technical and operational details. It is developing a comprehensive set of specifications that account for the various complex systems in aircraft that optimises them for module interchangeability. If it is successful, the time it takes to customise an aircraft cabin could be reduced by a factor of three, and take the speed of aircraft reconfiguration from weeks to hours, or even minutes. Currently, work on cabin interiors does not begin until the final weeks of the manufacturing process, but modular cabin interiors could be developed on a parallel timetable with the core fabrication of the aircraft itself. >>

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