For airlines trying to save fuel, every ounce of weight onboard is important. Ryanair, the budget airline, went so far as to trim pages out of their in-flight magazine and serve drinks with fewer ice cubes. (They ran into trouble when they also asked flight attendants to lose a few pounds). But the heaviest single item on a flight is the plane itself. A new concept design proposes removing the windows to cut weight.
Ironically, the windowless design also kind of gives passengers a better view, by replacing tiny portholes with a panoramic screen covering the walls of the plane and projecting live footage from cameras outside. The concept is the brainchild of the Centre for Process Innovation, a U.K. tech company that developed a thin, flexible display screen and was looking for the best way to put it to use.
“It was agreed that the technology could be utilized to create a visually stunning panoramic view for aircraft passengers and would transform the way people experience air travel, while significantly lowering its carbon footprint,” says Matthew Herbert, marketing manager for the company.
Though airplane windows are made of plastic, their construction makes them heavy. “Airplane windows diminish the mechanical strength of the fuselage, so additional materials are required to strengthen its structure around the window openings,” explains Herbert. “For this reason, removing windows–like in a cargo plane–will considerably reduce the weight of the aircraft. This is especially the case if the aircraft design is optimized to maximize benefits of a lighter fuselage, resulting in better fuel economy and lower airfares.”
The company may test the technology first on smaller private jets, where passengers could potentially control a section of the screen to swap from outdoor views to a movie or a drink order–or to look back at a view they just passed. “The displays could enable the passenger to replay scenes or select from a library of views,” Herbert says.
Don’t expect to really see the technology anytime soon. Because of the slow pace of airplane development, it probably won’t be on flights for another two decades. “The test cycles and protocols for new product testing in the aerospace sector are long and very demanding,” Herbert says. “While the technology will take 10 years to be fully developed it is important to also remember that the aerospace industry works to a two decade design cycle. With this in mind a windowless aircraft is at least 20 years away from being realized at best.”