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How Airbus Is Positioning Itself To Become First In Modular Flight

First class, coach, or coworking space? Here’s why Airbus’s customization effort is one of Fast Company’s 2017 Innovation By Design award-winners.

How Airbus Is Positioning Itself To Become First In Modular Flight
“People value customization, personalization, and choice,” says designer and engineer Jason Chua—and that includes airline travel. [Photo: Tobias Hutzler]

Airbus’s Transpose is an honoree in the 2017 Innovation By Design Awards, Fast Company‘s annual celebration of the best ideas in design. See the rest of the winners, finalists, and honorable mentions here.

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To the chagrin of cramped coach passengers, airplane-cabin design hasn’t changed significantly in decades. That’s not only because it’s most profitable for airlines to jam in as many fliers as possible, but because changing 100 miles of wiring inside a commercial aircraft is complex, time-consuming, and very expensive.

Related Video: Yoga Studios And Sleeping Pods–A Look At Airbus’s New Modular Aircraft

But at Airbus’s innovation lab, A3 (pronounced “A-cubed”), designer and engineer Jason Chua is pursuing a radical idea: customizable modules that would enable airlines to reconfigure plane interiors to offer fliers more options for how they spend their time in the air. “People value customization, personalization, and choice. We expect it in all aspects of our life,” Chua says. Right now, “we don’t have a lot of those choices when we travel.” Airbus’s concept, called Transpose, would feature sleeping modules, business-focused team pods, mini gyms, and even children’s play areas, with enough seats and seat belts for departure, landing, and turbulence. Chua and his team reengineered the area between the aircraft’s shell and its interiors so that modules can easily be swapped without rewiring.

Airbus designer and engineer Jason Chua has a radical plan to make flying user-friendly. [Photo: Tobias Hutzler]
Chua argues that giving airlines more control over the number and configuration of seats would enable them to maximize efficiency. For instance, if there are more business-class passengers on a particular flight, the airline could add an extra business-class cabin and replace economy seats with a coworking area. (A study commissioned by Transpose suggests that modular cabins could double profit margins for the airline industry.) Another business model, he says, would allow passengers to choose seating options while booking tickets, paying more for certain arrangements—which could be sponsored by brands in hospitality, food, entertainment, and wellness. A recent Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience study revealed that customers would be willing to pay 35% more than premium economy fares for Transpose’s increased customization.

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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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