As a man who has been flying around the world for more than sixty years, Emirates President Sir Tim Clark has a lot of thoughts about the inflight passenger experience. He helped to drive changes not only in how the world thinks about travel patterns and transit points, but also what the on-board experience should be like. And he’s not done yet.
With one eye firmly set on helping to drive innovation towards further reducing aircraft emissions, he’s also keen to ensure that passenger comfort on Emirates is not sacrificed, at least not too much, in the next generation of interiors.
The airline business was in a it was in a bad place in the 1970s and 80s. It was deeply boring. So we had the ability to transform it to give customers an experience they’ve never had before, and we can level up as an airline. We were not just talking about the first class cabin; economy class passengers get better seats, more comfortable seats, wider cabins, greater space between the seats, too.– Sir Tim Clark, Emirates President
Speaking at Future Travel Experience EMEA in London last week, Clark recounted the history of the passenger experience at Emirates and other airlines over the decades. He also looked to the future, with ideas for how the carrier can continue to shave weight and deliver other efficiency improvements.
The next generation of Emirates’ in-flight entertainment
We started in the 1990s, with the A340-500, knowing passengers are going to be in the airplane so long, with providing [personal entertainment] systems.
In the early days, Emirates’ ice in-flight entertainment system weighed in around 4 kilograms per seat. Today that’s down nearly 90%, to around a half kilo. Most of that progress came from slashing weight in the screens. Could Emirates simply remove the screens completely?
Clark sees that as a viable option, assuming in-flight internet can backfill the entertainment demand. “Are we going to have low earth orbit satellites so ubiquitous that we can fly anywhere and stream data? If you don’t get that, then you need to still have screens.” The obvious implication there is that connectivity solves nearly all the other entertainment challenges, allowing passengers to bring their own screens and content on board, anywhere on the planet. But is that enough?
Can travelers be convinced that their personal screen is the entertainment platform of the future? Emirates has Wi-Fi across its fleet today. It even offers a complimentary model for passengers. But take rates are low, and the ice in-flight entertainment system continues to improve.
Moreover, passengers have shown a propensity towards dual-screen entertainment where available. Replicating the at home experience in the sky may require more screens, not fewer.
There’s a strong likelihood that within a decade the internet connection Clark describes will exist across Emirates’ fleet. But that does not mean the screens will necessarily disappear.
Shaving weight in the seats
We’re trying to do our level best given the fact you’re sitting on a fuel tank taking you from A to B.
Passenger seats were once “clunky and uncomfortable,” weighing in at nearly 30 kilograms. Recognizing that the carrier wanted to operate flights of 16, 18, even 20 hours, however, Emirates pushed suppliers to adjust designs. Seats now weigh around eight kilograms each, a 75% reduction.
Clark takes much of the credit for that transition, “We drove that, not the manufacturers. We drove in terms of the way we designed the seat and the cushions,” pushing suppliers to innovate with modern alloys and cushion materials.
Can additional weight be shaved from the seats, making the long-haul planes even more efficient? That’s certainly getting harder to realize, though he believes further improvements in metal alloys will provide some additional benefits. Clark was also clear he does not want to compromise comfort, at least not too much. Still, he sees “a high degree of acceptance and understanding and willingness” from individuals to adjust their lives to at least slightly reduce their impact on the climate. And he still believes there are opportunities to push some of those changes on to aircraft.
Pushing for efficiency in other areas
We have a reputation for consumerism, raping and pillaging the planet of everything and leaving nothing for our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren. There’s now awareness that we need to do better, and we are. The kind of work we do on airplanes with regard to food and cutlery, the crockery, and the waste disposal and the engaging of the supply chain to ensure that they are carbon friendly in the production of the goods that we will use, et cetera, becomes far more meaningful.
In the mean time, Emirates is pushing a multi-pronged effort to trim where it can. Clark describes the situation as “a footprint, which has the airplane as its heel and sole,” but with many opportunities surrounding that where progress can be made. Ground support equipment is converting to electrical drive, for example. Suppliers are getting more efficient on the production side of components. Component materials throughout the plane are changing. “There are lots of other things that we are stripping out all the time we’ll continue to do that.”
Emirates also seeded $200 million into an investment fund to help drive progress. The fund looks beyond carbon offsets, “to work with like minded individuals in the science and technology area, in aerospace and propulsion, and with the large multi nationals” to come up with big ideas that can change the future. Clark is hoping other airlines join as well, with a goal of a $1 billion investment from the industry. “It is very difficult for us to try and deal with all of this. But this is a clear statement of intent. It’s a recognition of the problem. And it’s a recognition that there has to be a solution to the problem, albeit quite a long term one. But we have to start now.”
More news from Future Travel Experience EMEA 2023
- Alaska Airlines, American Airlines to deliver integrated app check-in option
- Ethiopian plans Dreamliner upgrades
- Sir Tim Clark expects IFEC, seats to help trim Emirates’ emissions
- Pricing tweaks ahead for Spirit’s in-flight Wi-Fi
- TagsForLife proposes RFID bag tags, without a barcode backup
- Nourish proposes an inflight catering revolution
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