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Protect and serve

Shedding weight is a running theme when it comes to cabin interiors, and catering trolleys are no exception. Kerry Reals discovers how the tank-like carts of the past are being replaced by lighter, more user-friendly units which make greater use of plastic and composite materials

While an unwavering focus remains on weight loss for cabin trolleys – together with improved ergonomics and durability – airlines are also demanding more sophisticated security systems to prevent the theft of duty-free items, a challenge trolley manufacturers are rising to with innovative new designs and techniques.


One such manufacturer is relative newcomer Norduyn, producer of the all-composite Quantum range of catering trolleys. Based in Montreal, Canada, the company has done away with the traditional trolley material of choice, aluminium, and replaced it entirely with composites. This has enabled it to develop a trolley weighing less than 10 kilos (22lbs), which it markets as being up to 40% lighter than competing aluminium products.


Norduyn director of business development, Patrick Phillips, admits that investing the time and expense required to certify an all-composite trolley was a “gamble”, but he believes it is starting to pay off as more airlines become aware of the potential fuel savings available. He estimates that an airline operating 30 widebodies can save between $2 million and $5 million per year on fuel simply by switching to a lighter trolley – and the benefits do not stop there.


“We looked at the market and saw that 15 to 20 years ago, trolleys were tanks. They were very heavy and they lasted for 15 years. Now, the lightweight aluminium ones last for six years so they are basically disposable,” says Phillips. “Our biggest customer, Lufthansa, put our composite trolleys to the test and they came out with a 10-year lifespan.”


Plastics and composites are “lighter, more durable, easier to maintain and offer better ergonomics”, says Phillips, adding that he is still surprised by some of the safety hazards still associated with aluminium trolleys. For instance, he points to sharp edges and describes the levers used to open the doors on some aluminium trolleys as “finger guillotines”.


Phillips also points to the greater ability of an all-composite trolley to keep its contents cold, noting that it is “twice as thermally efficient as an aluminium trolley”.


However, the drawback of this type of trolley – one which has so far seen other manufacturers shy away from following suit – is its higher price tag. “The trade-off is that all-composite trolleys are a bit more expensive to acquire than traditional aluminium ones. But it is possible to break-even within the year – after that, you make money because you’re saving on fuel,” says Phillips.


Such reassurances do not wash with aircraft interiors giant, Zodiac Aerospace, which plans to stick with using a combination of materials, with a greater emphasis on metals than composites, as Thomas Lee, director of marketing and innovation for Zodiac’s galleys and equipment division explains.


“The issue we’ve seen with all-composite trolleys is the costs go higher than airlines are prepared to pay,” says Lee. “We could make one but the industry has not been willing to absorb the costs on any large scale.”


Since mid-2010, Norduyn has managed to put 25,000 of its trolleys into active service whilst accumulating a backlog of 20,000 units, says Phillips. “We now offer over 14 possible trolley configurations to our customers.” >>

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