The winners of the 2020 Crystal Cabin Awards were announced in late March in a virtual programme due to the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions around the world. These are highly regarded honours for the aircraft interiors, aviation innovation and engineering, and airline passenger experience sectors. The year 2020 marked the 14th year of the awards, an independent initiative organised by the Crystal Cabin Award Association in association with the Hamburg Aviation cluster.
Airlines, aerospace suppliers, universities, design houses and aircraft manufacturers from 21 countries submitted some 105 entries for consideration in the 2020 shortlist, with an initial evaluation process between the 27 members of the expert international judging panel reducing the list to 24 finalists. In February 2021 the panel met again – online rather than the usual coffee and pastry-fuelled sessions in Hamburg – to dig deeper into the entries with the finalists and decide which eight innovations deserve the coveted trophies.
The Cabin Concepts category always receives the most public and media interest, and the 2020 results should continue this trend. This category recognises complete cabins, and the contenders are typically airlines, aircraft manufacturers and design companies – or a combination thereof. Airbus took the prize in 2019 for its ‘Lower Deck Pax Experience’ modules, with Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER first class suites and Safran’s Essential business class seat taking the runner-up positions. The 2020 winner is something a little different…
WINNER: Eviation Alice
The 2019 Paris Air Show saw the launch of Alice, an all-electric, zero-emission regional aircraft from Eviation. The electric propulsion helps ensure that passengers will enjoy low noise and vibration during flight, as well as the practical benefits of a range of 650 miles at a 240-knot cruise speed. But what other passenger experiences await within the all-composite fuselage? Almadesign is Eviation’s design partner for the aircraft cabin. The cabin design project took 18 months from the initial commission to the presentation of the prototype, with input from partners from the global supply chain, including companies from Israel, Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Singapore and the USA
Greener Cabin, Health, Safety & Environment
While passenger comfort and airline efficiency are major focuses of the awards, there is another very important consideration: environmental and health factors. This category recognises the benefits of innovations that either reduce the negative effects of aviation on the environment, or minimise health or safety hazards and security problems for passengers, staff or live cargo.
WINNER: Diehl, Greywater Reuse Unit
Passengers are likely to be washing their hands more thoroughly during post-Covid flights, increasing demand for water on board. However, water is a heavy resource to carry on an aircraft. With Diehl’s Greywater Reuse System, the water used in the lavatory sink for handwashing (grey water) is reused for flushing the toilet, which is more efficient than using precious potable water. According to Diehl this process reduces the amount of potable water typically used on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight by 250kg, resulting in CO2 savings of around 550 tons per year and per aircraft, as well as creating substantial financial savings for the operator. Despite this significant saving in the use of potable water, twice as much water will be available for flushing the toilet compared to some of today’s systems. The Greywater Reuse System treats the handwash water to prevent any resulting undesired odours, microbial regrowth, unpleasant appearance and health risks. Optimised spray nozzles aid toilet cleaning, while the automated toilet lid minimises the need to touch high-contact areas.
Materials & Components
Developing new materials, material applications or a new combination of materials for cabin systems can cut production costs and maximise usability. This category rewards such innovation and embraces an enormous variety of different aircraft components. Entries can be an innovative, single technical component or material, but not a fully developed product such as a seat.
WINNER: e₂ip Technologies, In-Mold Electronics
As people grow accustomed to using smart surfaces on electronic devices and in automotive cockpits, it is a good time to introduce these elegant, user-friendly surfaces into the cabin space. e₂ip Technologies has seized this opportunity, developing IME, a design that integrates electronics within the moulds of controllers. With a simple hand gesture such as a swipe, the smart surface of the controller comes to life, revealing clearly backlit controls, including capacitive on/off switches, sliders and dials for volume or light levelling, and more. e2ip’s technology enables control features similar to those found in many modern cars Smart surfaces are key to IME (In-Mold Electronics), which e₂ip sees as the future of HMI. The company, with the support of the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), has advanced the materials and processes used in IME to enable greater design freedom. This freedom flows from ideation, to fabrication from the industrial designer’s imagination, to the airline passengers’ fingertips.
Passenger Comfort Hardware
This category recognises innovative hardware ideas that enhance passenger comfort, from seats, lavatories and bins, to partitions, lighting systems, linings and VIP products.
WINNER: Safran Seats, Modulair
Most airlines strive to offer the best flying experience in economy class, but adding comfort can sometimes also add weight and complexity, while not addressing the individual preferences of a wide range of travellers. In response Safran has developed Modulair S, a set of seating comfort modules that can enhance the inflight experience for a broad range of passengers, whether child or retiree, solo or family traveller, and whether they wish privacy, sleep or entertainment during their journey. Safran’s Modulair gives the airlines the option to add a range of modular passenger comfort features. Safran Seats worked with the French design school, ENSCi (L’École Nationale Supérieure de Création Industrielle), to develop the Modulair’s key features, which include the ‘U-dream’ headrest (a flexible design with adjustable privacy and support), armrests that give the middle seat a little more space, a double-deck seatback table that can be adjusted for different needs during flight, 3d-knitted amenity pockets, and flexible stowage for devices.
The Visionary Concepts category is an exciting prize which looks to the aircraft cabins of tomorrow. So what experiences could we be enjoying in the coming years?
WINNER: Airbus Airspace Cabin Vision 2030
Inspired by airlines, technology companies from Silicon Valley and start-ups, Airbus has brought to life a future flying experience – the Airspace Cabin Vision 2030. The vision is of cabin layouts boasting more flexible seating and sleeping configurations, as well as inflight lounges with transforming modules. The Airbus design would give passengers more choice and flexibility, enabling them to select a personalised flight experience based on their individual needs, whether they are travelling for business or leisure, alone or with family. Crews would work in a digitally enabled environment, allowing for more efficient operations and more time spent with passengers.
In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity
This category covers the fastest growing, fastest developing sector of the aviation industry and includes areas such as accessible content, antennas, passenger apps, moving maps, unique cabin wi-fi features, etc.
WINNER: Safran Passenger Solutions, RAVE Bluetooth Audio
Safran Passenger Solutions has cracked the code for Bluetooth Audio congestion during flight, enabling the entire aircraft to be connected at the same time. Up until now, most commercially available Bluetooth systems did not enable a large number of Bluetooth headphones, in close proximity to each other, to be used at the same time without slowing down the cabin wi-fi. The engineers at Safran Passenger Solutions created a way to control power, antenna direction and protocol to allow each passenger or seat of an aircraft to be connected to Bluetooth audio without impacting the connection quality for other passengers. In addition, passengers are not limited to the headsets provided by airlines. Flyers can connect using their own devices, if they prefer, increasing passenger satisfaction and decreasing costs for airlines.
The Cabin Systems category considers innovative systems that can make inflight operations more efficient or effective. Category contenders typically include hardware such as galleys, lavatories, trolleys, air conditioning, electrical systems, electronic cabin management systems, waste & potable water systems, and acoustics.
WINNER: Safran Cabin, Sophy smart trolley system
The smart Sophy galley cart system offers more capabilities than just tracking a trolley’s status and performance, even though such technology is still considered advanced. Safran has developed Sophy to provide airlines with a ‘helicopter view’ of a trolley’s day-to-day operations, offering insights on main processes and the milestones of the trolley’s journey during handovers, cleaning, maintenance, in-flight service rounds and more. The slimline Sophy hardware can fit within any galley cart to collect, share and communicate accurate data with other Sophy-activated equipment in real-time through a ‘mesh network’ , unlocking valuable insights for airline operators. The insights of a trolley equipped with Sophy can save catering costs by helping operators prevent and minimise the inefficiencies caused by mishandling, misplacement or misinformation. No longer will a trolley be left behind during a turnaround or at the catering facility.
This category is a fantastic opportunity for college and university students to present their visions for innovative aircraft interior products and concepts. Ideas should reflect the idea of making flying more comfortable or ecologically friendly. As well as potentially having their ideas recognised by aerospace experts, students in this category may benefit from gaining important contacts within the industry who can help develop their future career.
WINNER: University of Cincinnati, Coffee House Cabin
An interesting proposition is the Coffee House Cabin concept, which instead of the usual layout of travel classes fitted in decreasing order or fare along the length of a twin-aisle aircraft, puts premium economy in the centre of the economy cabin. This is no standard premium economy though, with central desk-style tables rotated 90° running along the centre of the economy cabin. The design was conceived by students and faculty at the University of Cincinnati, Boeing, and the Live Well Collaborative, a multidisciplinary design offshoot of the university. Workaholics can set up office at the large desks, with ample space for laptops and paperwork, complemented by charging ports. The workstations feature two double-sided retractable high-resolution screens for IFE, messages and inflight services, which also provide a physical partition from the passenger seated opposite. If co-workers are travelling together, a ‘quad’ could be booked in the Coffee House so that employees can communicate with one another during flight.